HARPERSVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — State climatologists say drought conditions are dire across the state of Alabama, increasing more rapidly in the north and lacking improvement in the south.
Dr. Lee Ellenburg, an associate state climatologist and research scientist at the University of Alabama Huntsville, said their office provides recommendations to the federal drought monitor for the categories they draw.
Portions of Alabama are currently seeing unusually severe and extreme drought conditions, due to a dry August and September, Ellenburg said. He also said that Alabama already has a lot of clay soils that don’t hold water well.
Ellenburg said they are seeing impact across the board. Whether it be cattle producers or crop farmers, he said the effects can be detrimental for some.
In particular, the drought has affected some of the harvest like soybeans and cotton, Ellenburg said. If these conditions continue, it may have potential to effect deeper rooted vegetation like Christmas trees, according to Ellenburg.
“You’re starting to see conditions very similar to that of 2019 or even 2016 drought where it just, it quit raining,” he said. “We had hot and dry conditions that led into our dry period. If these conditions continue, we could see a lot bigger impacts in terms of forest fires, and again, if these fall crops are not able to be planted, you start seeing impacts that can come around next spring (and) next summer.”
At Old Baker Farm in Harpersville, they worked extremely hard ahead of the drought season to keep fan favorite crops like pumpkins and Christmas trees fresh for Halloween and the holiday season.
Owner Jerry Baker installed an irrigation system to keep everything watered consistently.
Without irrigation, he said pumpkin vines will wilt, dry and die. Baker said some batches did turn out drier this year because the irrigation system had a leak. It has since been fixed.
As for the Christmas tree crop, he said customers will likely be in luck with plenty of fresh pickings for the holidays, but it means hard work from the farmers to make that possible.
“On a drought year, it’ll affect them a little bit, but their roots are pretty deep, and we can water them too if we have to,” said Baker. “We don’t like to. That adds more labor to it and more time and more work. We’d rather them take care of themselves and just us trim them and take care of all the other stuff – the grooming and all the mowing and all – and us spraying them if we need to spray them.”
Baker said they are now one of the few Christmas tree farms remaining in the Birmingham area that grow their own, saying it takes a lot of patience and labor.
Ellenburg said they are also seeing an uptick a forest fires. He said the 2016 drought was a large cause of the fires in Gatlinburg.
“By no means am I saying we’re going to have another fire like that, but what I’m saying is, conditions are starting to deteriorate to where they look similar to what we saw prior to the 2016 drought,” Ellenburg said.
Fire threats are something Old Baker Farm takes very seriously.
Baker said they have buildings over 100 years old that are built out of highly flammable material. Fire would be detrimental to their property and crops.
“If this went up in flames, it would put us out of business,” Baker said.
Old Baker Farm takes extra precaution by not allowing any form of smoking on the property.
Ellenburg said it is uncertain how long this drought will last, but that it will likely continue for at least another two weeks.