Rain, Rain, Will It Ever Go Away?

Feb. 22, 2018
Flooding in soybean field

ADA, Ohio — If it seems that you’re reaching for your umbrella more often — or wishing you had — here’s the reason.

Ohio is getting a lot more rain than it used to and more intense downpours.

That may seem like just an inconvenience when you want to work outside or an expense if your roof springs a leak. However, the consequences are far more significant for farmers who plant and tend crops in soggy fields and for the water quality of Lake Erie that’s affected by pollution sources including rain running off fields carrying fertilizer with it.

Ohio receives 10 percent more rain per year, on average, than we did in the 20th century.

“You can think of it as the ‘new normal,’ ” said Aaron Wilson, climate specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Ohio’s current annual average is 42 inches, up 3 inches from the 39-inch average in the 20th century, Wilson said.

Three inches may sound like just a drop in the, well, bucket, but “the problem is the intensity at which the rain is falling,” Wilson said.

The additional 3 inches aren’t spread across the entire year. Instead the bulk of Ohio’s rain is falling in intense rain events, followed by an increase in consecutive dry days, Wilson said.

In July 2017, a rainfall dumped 5½ inches of rain in two hours within Darke County, in the west central part of the state.

Extreme rain events in which more than 2 inches fall during a rainstorm have increased by 30 percent in Ohio since the late 1990s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That means a lot more water soaking farmland, filling ditches, forming ponds on fields or dribbling off.

So, there’s greater potential for soil and fertilizer washing away from a field and into Lake Erie, which many municipalities rely on for their drinking water. In the summer of 2017, Lake Erie’s algal bloom level was classified as severe.

“I think that’s why farmers are working really hard on correct timing,” Wilson said regarding farmers applying fertilizer on their fields.

Wilson will address climate change and the impact of more rainfall on farmers and the water quality of Lake Erie during a talk at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, March 6-7. Wilson’s talk on March 6 at 3:35 p.m. will be among numerous presentations at the conference at Ohio Northern University in Ada.

Last spring, multiple rainstorms led Ohio farmers to replant the seeds they had sown, some multiple times, because of flooded fields. In the fall, rainfall delayed some harvests.

The increased amount of rain and number of intense rainstorms shows how the climate in Ohio and beyond is changing, Wilson said.

Given that, farmers might want to carefully consider how they apply fertilizer, and adopt techniques to prevent erosion so their soil’s nutrients — and the investment they made in them — don’t get flushed away, Wilson said.

“Weather patterns have changed so we can’t just take it for granted that what we did in the past will work well now and into the future,” Wilson said. “The more we understand how our weather is changing, the better we can be about adapting to these changes and making decisions now and into the future in agriculture.”

In planning to apply fertilizer to fields, it’s critical to know the forecast for 24 hours and use that to guide when and whether to make the application, Wilson pointed out.

The first step in becoming resilient to climate changes, Wilson said, is to being aware of what shifts are happening, then figure out ways to adapt to them.

For more information about the upcoming tillage conference, visit: fabe.osu.edu/CTCon


Alayna DeMartini




Aaron Wilson