August 13th, 2012 by

Traditionally, in the U.S., August weather is described as the dog days of summer. (Fun-fact alert: The expression “dog days” goes back to the Greeks and Romans who noticed that Sirius — the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, meaning large dog — would rise at daybreak and therefore thought it brought the summer heat.) However, with this year’s record-breaking heat waves, it feels like the dog days have been with us for months, and as a result, we’re already seeing their consequences while the heat is still upon us.

Cannibalized Corn Crops

Corn is harvested on a farm in Augusta County, Virginia, in 2008

Corn is harvested on a farm in Augusta County, Virginia, in 2008. Credit: Bob Nichols/USDA

With the mild temperatures of spring in the air, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that a record corn harvest was expected this year, as farmers had planted the most acres of the crop since 1937. In a few short months, that prediction went horribly wrong.

On Friday, the USDA announced that it expected the corn crop to be at its lowest level since 2006. But for individual farmers, the news is even worse, as the average yields per farmer are expected to be at their lowest level in the last 17 years. And things could still get worse. Plus, there’s the ripple effect, as a majority of the corn being affected isn’t the kind that us humans eat, but the kind that livestock and poultry eat, meaning we could see an increase in meat prices early next year.

Hungry Bears

The drought hasn’t just been affecting America’s crops, but it’s also impacting our natural areas. For bears — among other animals — this has meant shriveled and dry food sources. And a hungry bear is a roaming one.

Bear rummaging through trash

Credit: Mark F. Levisay/Flickr

You may have noticed that there have been quite a large number of bear sightings in the news recently. Many biologists are attributing this to the fact that bears’ normal food sources aren’t producing, and therefore, the mammals are getting creative in their hunt for sustenance — recently, a bear in Estes Park, Colo., broke into the same candy store seven times to score some sweet stuff.

“This has been an interesting year for bears, especially in the Catskills,” Jeremy Hurst, a big-game biologist with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, tells the Associated Press. “In multiple communities, bears have gotten into people’s homes, in some cases even when people were at home. Half a dozen to a dozen bears have been euthanized. More have been trapped and relocated. Typically, complaints of bear damage peak in late spring, but this year, the frequency of bear complaints picked up strongly with the drought in July.”

Hurricane Season

Okay, so technically, this one doesn’t have to do with the drought, but it is weather related, so I’m going with it.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season may produce more named storms than originally thought. In May, NOAA anticipated we’d see a “near-normal” season of nine-15 storms. Now, the administration thinks we could see up to 17 named storms this year.

“We are increasing the likelihood of an above-normal season because storm-conducive wind patterns and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are now in place in the Atlantic,” says Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, in NOAA’s announcement. “These conditions are linked to the ongoing high activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995. Also, strong early-season activity is generally indicative of a more active season.”

Fingers crossed that these storms stay at sea and away from America’s coastlines.