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Many feel pinch of drought

July 17, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County has seen some droughts in the past, but Chambersburg dairy farmer Stanley Burkholder said this year is the worst.

"I've never seen it this bad," even taking into account the severe dry spells in the early 1960s, he said

The outlook is bleak for relief in the form of rain, but temperatures are expected to drop to a more comfortable level by the weekend, according to Chris Strong, National Weather Service meteorologist.

A front should come through the area on Saturday bringing cooler temperatures - in the upper 80s - on Sunday and Monday, Strong said.

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Weather forecasters are predicting only a slight chance of rain with that front.

"It's looking pretty dry," Strong said.

The consistently hot, dry weather has Franklin County farmers like Burkholder more than a little worried.

"It looks really bad. The window is getting tighter all the time," he said.

More than 100,000 acres of corn in the county are teetering on the edge of survival under the harsh weather, which has produced only an average of 2.25 inches of rain for June and July.

Crops planted in late spring are hurting the most, though corn planted earlier may never "ear out" without rain, which is critical now for the corn to pollinate, said William Reagan, senior agent for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County.

Grazing cattle is out of the question since the meadows are parched and brown.

The conditions are forcing farmers to buy more hay, to feed now and to stock up for later, which is driving hay prices up.

"Farmers are feeling the pinch ... . The impact will start to add up," Reagan said.

Ironically, the weather has been ideal for the county's small grains crop, including wheat and barley, Reagan said.

The dry spell has state forest officials on alert with the national fire danger rating system at high in the area.

The rating system goes from low to extreme.

"It's very dry out there. A fire could very easily start," said Rod Lyon, forest fire inspector at Michaux State Forest in Fayetteville, Pa.

The danger of a forest fire now isn't so much that it would be hard to control, but that it would burn down into the ground and get "deep seeded" since there is little moisture in the ground, Lyon said.

Since July 4, five forest fires have started and been extinguished in nearby Cumberland County, burning a total of two acres, Lyon said.

"The risk is definitely there," he added.

Officials in Harrisburg, Pa. are considering imposing a burning ban in the state forests in the area, making open fires illegal, until the danger is over, Lyon said.

Some are feeling the lack of rain in their pocketbooks.

Brown lawns have dispelled Shawn and Lynn Brubaker's visions of greenbacks this summer.

The 13 and 11-year-old Chambersburg brothers had planned on making enough money mowing lawns and helping people in the Mill Creek Acres neighborhood with yardwork to pay for new school supplies.

"I put my name in the paper but only one person called," said Shawn, who's only mowed his family's and neighbors yards a few times since school ended.

Jobs for professional landscapers are also drying up, forcing some businesses to cut back and lay off workers.

"If you don't cut lawns you lose money ... . You lose good workers," said Patti Kelly, who's husband, Patrick, owns G.Q. Lawn and Landscaping in Chambersburg.

Calls to Blue Ridge Lawn Service in Waynesboro, Pa. have slowed to a trickle since little can be done to brown lawns, said Doug Wolff, co-owner.

"It's a very different year for lawn care," he said.

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