Extreme weather is great for TV. It’s lousy for agriculture.
Farmers across the region are absorbing the second blow of a one-two punch that started last year with the worst drought in decades.
This spring, the problem is unremitting rainfall.
“It’s getting old real fast,” said Brad Draudt, owner of Draudt’s Farm Market & Greenhouses in Hamburg. “Now, we’re in trouble. There’s standing water in the field.”
The recurring rains have shattered daily records, monthly marks and seasonal statistics.
Here are a few:
• More rain has fallen this spring – 12.03 inches – since March 1 than any other in Buffalo’s history dating back to 1870.
• Last month’s 6.38 inches of precipitation set the mark for Buffalo’s wettest April on record.
• Monday’s 1.29 inches of rain that broke a 142-year-old daily record was more precipitation than all of May 2016.
And more rain is coming later this week.
There’s been so much rain this spring that getting into the fields during this week’s prime planting time for many crops, including squash and cucumbers this week, looks impossible.
“If you tried to work your ground right now, it would make a muddy mess and it would hurt your soil structure,” said Mark Zittel of Zittel & Sons in Eden.
Monday’s record-setting rain was one of three separate 19th century records busted over the last 26 days alone.
Others included 1.95 inches of rain that fell April 20 – which not only broke a mark set in 1893, but set a new high water mark for daily rainfall for any day in April – and 1.55 inches that fell April 6 and eclipsed a record set in 1886.
“We have been in a wet pattern,” said Jeff Wood, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
At least Monday's rain didn't worsen flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline, where high waters have been a problem leading to declarations of a state of emergency in Niagara County's four lakeshore towns.
"Right now, we're doing OK with the south wind," Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said Tuesday, "but the lake has gone up about three inches in the last day and a half."
Winds from the north push more water toward the lakeshore, making the flooding threat worse.
"I'm not worried about the rain. I'm worried about the wind," Horanburg said.
A spokesman for the International Joint Commission said Lake Ontario is at its highest level since 1993. The binational agency's new water-level management plan is being blamed by some lakefront property owners for the high water and resultant flooding and erosion.
"These high water levels are a result of exceptionally wet conditions and high water supplies, and would have occurred under any regulation plan. Lake and river levels would have been nearly identical this year under the previous regulation plan," the IJC spokesman said.
Draudt, the Hamburg farmer, said he'd take last year over this one so far.
“Neither extreme is good. We can irrigate to a certain point (when its abnormally dry). Right now, we can do nothing,” Draudt said. “There’s absolutely nothing to do except wait.”
Added Zittel: "It's starting to get behind schedule a little bit. May 1 to May 5 is our target date."
In the well-draining soils of the Eden Valley a few days of a warm breeze and some sunshine would do wonders to help things dry out a bit, he said.
The forecast adds insult to injury though. Even more rain is on the way – a lot more.
National Weather Service forecasts suggest the region might pick up two inches or more of precipitation by the end of the weekend.
Wednesday looks like a brief chance to catch your breath, or pump out your basement. There is only a 20 percent chance for showers with partly sunny conditions forecast.
Rain returns by later Thursday.
A deepening storm system will pull moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico and bring more heavy rain Thursday and Thursday night, weather service forecasters said.
“Rainfall amounts could reach or exceed an inch on already saturated ground, potentially renewing hydrologic issues,” forecasters said.
For the weekend?
“Just what we don’t need...MORE rain,” weather service forecasters mused in their discussion.
“This should prove to be one of the uglier weekends in recent memory,” forecasters said, “and almost certainly one of the least conducive one for outdoor activities this spring.”
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) May 2, 2017
That won’t be welcome news for golfers, Buffalo’s Cinco de Mayo revelers, Silo City’s Boom Days party launching spring or the Great Hertel Dog Walk.
And, it’s sure bad news for farmers.
“The ground can’t take any more,” Draudt said.
Draudt’s peas, which were planted last month, already germinated. Lettuce is planted. And, broccoli and cauliflower went in the ground last week.
Draudt already projects he’ll lose about half of the beans that were recently planted due to seed rot. They remain underwater.
Besides rot, standing water causes fertilizer to run off of fields and breeds disease in crops.
Jeffrey Simons, a South Wales farmer who heads the Erie County Farm Bureau, said all’s not lost because it’s still early, but some dry weather is needed and soon.
Meanwhile, he said farmers will be playing catch up all season.
“We’re definitely a little behind the eight-ball,” Simons said. “I don’t think anybody is ready to push the panic button yet.”
Simons added: “You just kind of have to sit and wait.”