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Update: Despite Rain, Drought's Still Imminent

The Joliet area received less than an half an inch of precipitation overnight Saturday, not enough to do much good because of runoff and evaporation.

Update/11:15 p.m. Sunday:

Despite the rain received on Saturday night -- less than an inch -- it remains very likely the area will be declared in a drought this week, National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Krein said Sunday night.

Part of the problem is the heat and the dry conditions of the soil, which produces both evaporation and runoff when it rains, he said.

It will continue to be hot and dry through at least Wednesday night, when there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms, according to the 11:55 p.m. Sunday forecast for Joliet. Highs will be in the mid-90s and lows in the mid-70s through Wednesday night, the forecast says. 

The situation's considered so bad in Naperville that residents are being asked to water the trees and shrubs planted in public parkways, according to a story in Naperville Patch.

It's also expected to be windy tomorrow, with gusts measuring at 25 to 30 mph and some as high as 40 mph, the forecast says. That could exacerbate the potential for brush fires. See comments from Joliet Deputy Fire Chief Ron Randich below.

This story was published about 10 p.m. Friday:

When's the last time it rained? If you can't remember, it's probably because there's been just 1,200th of an inch of precipitation in June, National Weather Service meteorologist Gino Izzi says.

In fact, it's been so dry that the rainfall record for the first 15 days of June -- 100th of an inch, set in 1922 -- was toppled Friday, Izzi said.

And even with the chance of thunderstorms Saturday night and Sunday, it's possible the area could set the record for the dryest June in recorded history if conditions continue, he said. That record was set in 1988, when only one inch of rain fell, he said.

"That would be an extraordinary record to break," Izzi said.

Given that Will County's had just eight to nine inches of rain in the last 90 days -- compared to the 10 to 15 inches normal for that time period -- it's also extremely likely the U.S. Drought Monitor will declare the area in a D1-level moderate drought next week, he said.

Right now the area's classified as D0 -- abnormally dry, he said. There are parts of central Illinois that are already at the moderate level and the far tip of the state is at the severe drought level, according the drought monitor, stationed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"The dryness continues is going to continue for at least another week, and it's going to be hot -- in the mid- to upper-90s -- again next week," Izzi said.

The lack of rain is a huge problem for farmers, who count on June precipitation to bolster their crops through the typically hotter months of July and August.

Izzi said an equally big concern is the threat of wildfires, which can easily ignite and spread during extremely dry conditions, especially when it's windy.

Perfect Conditions for Fire

said the threat of out-of-control fires is not as big a threat here as it is in areas with larger expanses of open space, but a spark landing near a house or building could cause real problems.

While charcoal and gas grills are fine to use, Randich urges residents to take extreme care with fire pits and fireworks. If possible, it would be ideal if residents used neither during pre-drought and drought conditions.

"Sparklers are nothing but sparks," Randich said. "At the very least, keep them away from the house."

If you are going to use a fire pit, make sure it's one with a metal base and legs and a mesh screen lid, and always keep a hose nearby, he said. Let the fire completely burn out before discarding the ashes, even if that means leaving it out overnight, he said.

People have started fires by putting ashes into trash cans before they're completely extinguished, a dangerous situation given that most people keep their trash cans in their garage or next to their house, Randich said.

"All it takes is one tiny spark," he said. "A lot of times it's just the right place at the right time to get things going."

Taking a Toll on the Landscaping

The other casualty in hot, dry weather are plants and flowers. Kevin Eberhard, chief horticulturalist for the Joliet Park District's Barber and Oberwortmann Horticultural Center, said the landscaping that will suffer the most are vegetable gardens, container plants and annuals.

That means, if you must choose what to water and water can go longer without, put grass and perennials on the back burner, Eberhard said. Both will go dormant and have the ability to withstand periods of drought.

Also, be aware that more than surface watering is required in hot and dry conditions because so much will be evaporated quickly before it has a chance to help the plant, Eberhard said.

If possible, use a soaker hose or simply set your hose at a trickle and place it amongst a group of flowers or vegetables, he said. Get the water as close to the soil as possible, he said.

Trees and shrubs ideally need an inch of rain a week and they won't start being stressed until after about five weeks without water, he said.

However, they also have the means to survive through drought periods by drawing down internal resources, he said. While most will rebound without problem, it does weaken them and it can take a toll on older landscaping.

As for new landscaping, it's going to take a lot of water during arid periods to ensure they survive, Eberhard said. You cannot stint if you want to see new trees and shrubs take root in the first year, he said.

"It may take a lot more money than you'd like to be using," he said, but it's unavoidable unless you want to lose the money you've invested.

So far this year, water usage in Joliet has been about average, according to the Joliet Public Works Department.

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