How to Survive a Drought

How to Prepare for and Survive a Drought

While over half of the United States is experiencing a drought that threatens our nations breadbasket, many wonder what they can do to survive the current drought and prepare for the next one.

One of the effects of droughts are dryness and lack of water. They are most commonly known to be in Africa. However, much of this is changing and the United States has been facing continually worse droughts every year for the last few years.

Lack of water means less irrigation for the crops, less drinking water, less water for hygiene, and less hydro-electricity. In developing countries droughts cause bad disease, famine,and death.

How to Survive a Drought - US Drought Map Comparing 2006 to 2012

Just by looking at the comparison images from the US Seasonal Drought Outlook from 2006 (image on the left) and 2012 (image on the right) you can clearly see that the situation has gotten worse. Many areas that have not experienced droughts in the past are now experiencing them and many home and community gardens are suffering, let alone large agricultural farms.

U.S. declares drought-stricken states largest natural disaster area ever

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than half the country (56 percent) experienced drought conditions—the largest percentage in the 12-year history of the service. And according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the period from January through June was “the warmest first half of any year on record for the contiguous United States.”

The average temperature was 52.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.5 degrees above average, NOAA said on Monday. Twenty-eight states east of the Rockies set temperature records for the six-month period.

A heat wave blistered most of the United States in June, with more than 170 all-time temperature records broken or tied during the month. On June 28 in Norton, Kan., for instance, the temperature reached 118 degrees, an all-time high. On June 26, Red Willow, Neb., set a temperature record of 115 degrees, eclipsing the 114-degree mark set in 1932.

Record U.S. drought: 1,000 counties in state of emergency; 30% of the nation’s corn crop at risk of being lost

Almost 61 percent of the lower 48 states are in some type of drought condition, said authorities, the highest amount since record-keeping began a decade ago. Dry conditions extending from coast to coast are making many people’s lives miserable..

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, said in a press release.

Over 1,000 counties in 26 states have been declared disaster areas because of drought, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If a county has suffered drought conditions for eight consecutive weeks, it qualifies as a disaster area, according to CNN. This designation allows farmers to apply for emergency loans carrying low-interest rates.

“In the hottest areas last week, which were generally dry, crop conditions deteriorated quickly,” wrote Rich Tinker in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drought Monitor report.

30 percent of the nation’s corn crop is in danger of being lost, according to Tinker, up from 22 percent last week. This would have a grave impact on the price of dairy and meat because of farmers’ reliance on corn to feed cattle.

How to Prepare for and Survive a Drought
How You Can Survive A Drought

Plan for the drought. Develop a strategy to use when a drought occurs. Read an almanac that predicts future conditions based on tracking rainfall from past seasons. You can also checkout the current conditions and possibly future conditions on NOAA’s US Seasonal Drought Outlook website. Measure the rainfall during the year to determine a course of action for the likelihood of drought conditions.

Make or purchase rain barrels and cisterns. Divert water to create an irrigation system. Use this system to collect and redirect water for people, plants and livestock. Dig a well or tap into ground water as a new source of water.

Consider the impact of a drought on livestock. Sell livestock to market when a drought happens to thin out the herd. Recover by adding stocker or breeders to a mix of animals to reproduce new livestock.

Recycle milk jugs or plastic bottles to create a watering system. Fill the containers with water and poke small holes into them with a pin or ice pick. Place the bottles in the ground within the circumference of the plant. Let the water saturate plant’s root system.

Preserve water for plants, trees and shrubs. Bed down plants for the winter with organic mulch to preserve moisture. Leave grass clippings where they fall after mowing lawn. Water plants in the morning only.

Conserve water in your household by putting a 12 to 20 ounce plastic bottle in a toilet tank to displace water that fills for waster disposal. Buy bottled water and store it. Be sure to rotate the stored water so it does not go bad.

Prevent unnecessary waste of water during a drought by timing showers to 5 minutes. Don’t take baths or do so sparingly. Don’t leave the water running when rinsing dishes, shaving or brushing your teeth. Fill a cup with water for brushing teeth. Stop up the basin and fill with water for shaving.

Fill a basin and hand wash 1 or 2 items of clothing at a time. Only wash full loads of laundry in the washing machine.

You should also have a water storage system in place for if and when there is no more water available during an extreme drought. You can read more about water storage by going to the following articles:

Water Storage: The Basics To Storing Water
Water Storage: The Basics To Storing Water Part II

How Plants Survive A Drought
How Plants Survive A Drought

Plants react to the droughts by slowing down water intake and conserving the water they have.

Grass is a good example to explain this. During a drought, you will notice that the grass turns into yellow hard grass. Believe it or not the grass is not dead. Instead, the grass went into half in sleep so it stops growing and conserves water. Water is crucial to a plant’s survival, from the smallest plant to the biggest oak tree in the forest.

Water is very important to a plant because of the water they make their food what is called photosynthesis.They make it by the sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Without water to assist this process the plants won’t grow and will eventually die. So to conserve the water they do have desperately need to get through the drought they don’t grow so fast and goes half a sleep.

Deciduous trees have their own drought survival mechanism. Their tactic is to drop their leaves early to conserve the water they have. All the leaves have a opening what is know as stomata when it rains the water goes in the opening. But if there is to much water in the leave some water goes out what is know as transportation. During dry periods when there is a lack of water the leaves will close there stomata so they won’t limit the water they have.

However if they lose too much water they will have a wilted appearance.

During long periods without water, some of the trees will drop the leaves long before autumn and go dormant in an attempt to survive the droughts. Trees that will not drop the leaves each year, such as pines, hemlocks, and junipers, are better adapt to the droughts than the other trees.

How To Drought Proof Your Garden
How To Drought Proof Your Garden

Use Mulch

  • Mulch will reduce evaporation, helping your plants retain any water that you give them.
  • Mulch reduces the soil temperature in summer, helping your plants to survive long, hot periods.
  • Mulch limits weed growth (which gives more water to your plants)

Water your plants early in the morning.

Mornings are cool, and water doesn’t evaporate as readily as it does in the heat of the afternoon. Evenings are cool too, but water sitting on leaves overnight can cause fungal diseases.

Water less frequently but deeply.

Frequent, shallow waterings lead to weak, shallow-rooted plants. Less frequent, thorough waterings encourage roots to grow deep, where the soil stays moist longer.

Water the soil, not the plants.

Use a watering can, soaker hoses, drip irrigation, or other water-conserving irrigation techniques that saturate the soil while leaving the foliage dry.

Mulch your plantings.

A two- to three-inch layer of organic mulch such as shredded leaves or bark or compost slows evaporation by shading the soil, slows water runoff, and as a bonus, enriches the soil as it breaks down.

Don’t prune, fertilize, or apply pesticides during a drought emergency.

All of these would put additional stress on your plants.

Put off major planting projects until water is more plentiful.

All newly established plants require a lot of irrigation. It’s best to delay planting trees, shrubs, and large herbaceous borders until the drought is over.

Choose drought-tolerant plants for pots and for filling in existing plantings.

Certain characteristics indicate that a plant has low water requirements: Plants with silvery, hairy, or fuzzy leaves (such as woolly thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus), succulent leaves (such as rose moss, Portulaca species), or leaves with a waxy coating (such as ivy-leaved geranium, Pelargonium peltatum) are good choices. Plants with long taproots, such as butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), are good choices as well. See “Drought-Tolerant Plants,” page 13, for more recommendations.

Improve potting mixes.

For your container plants, consider incorporating hydrogels into the potting soil. These water-retaining polymers hold several hundred times their weight in water and release it gradually to the plants’ roots. Be careful not to add more than the recommended amount—too much of a good thing and your plants will be pushed out of their containers by the expanding crystals. Presoaking hydrogels until they are fully expanded makes them easier to incorporate with the potting soil in the proper ratio.

Cut down on mowing, fertilizing, and watering, and let your lawn go dormant.

Mowing causes water loss. Mow during the coolest part of the day, and leave the clippings, which return small but valuable amounts of moisture to your lawn. Raise the mowing height, because taller grass shades the soil, reducing water loss; the University of Massachusetts Extension recommends settings of two to three inches. Most turfgrasses are adapted to summer drought. They turn a nice buff brown color as they go dormant, sending their water reserves down to the roots for safekeeping. Given a bare minimum of water, your lawn will green up again in fall when temperatures cool.

Consider collecting and recycling water.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to connect your downspouts to rain barrels to collect roof runoff. When water used for boiling pasta and vegetables cools, use it to water your plants. Use of other types of “gray water,” such as that from showers, baths, washing machines, and dishwashers, is regulated by some municipalities, and the detergents and other chemicals in the water can be harmful to some plants.

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