Arkansas is Dangerously Hot and Dry

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- Arkansas and Texas are the only two states in the nation suffering through conditions that the National Weather Service ranks as next-to-worst on a scale of dry, hot weather: extreme drought.

If the dry weather scale was 1 through 6, with 6 being the most severe, Arkansas would be a 5. And weather forecasters said Thursday they see little chance of rain ahead.

The only worse category would be exceptional drought, and no states are currently in that condition, according to Joe Goudsward, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.

Some relief, but not much, is in sight.

"We have a front coming in tomorrow that will bring at least some chances of rain, not widespread relief," said John Lewis, a senior forecaster. ''It's the time of year where, precipitation generally becomes more scattered. And when it does rain, it usually comes in a deluge.''

As July began Friday, central and southern Arkansas were 6 to 10 inches below normal in rainfall and much of the rest of the state 4 to 6 inches below average. Temperatures in some places were at or near the 100-degree mark, Lewis said.

The dry, hot weather presented the threat of heat stroke to those working in it and of wildfires in the state's forests, while also taking a toll on farmland and gardens.

Ann Wright, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Health Department, said the weather conditions can be dangerous for many people. She said the department recommends drinking plenty of water and restricting activity to the coolest part of the day.

Assistant State Forester Don McBride said the number of wildfires has increased dramatically. In June of last year, firefighters battled seven fires on 30 acres. This June, the figure was 135 fires on 994 acres, McBride said.

"It's early for us to have 100 degree temps in June, and if the dry pattern holds and we continue to miss rains, we could be in for a very busy fire season,'' he said.

Dry weather categories range from normal, abnormally dry, moderate drought, severe drought and extreme drought. In Arkansas, April, May and June are the spring months and typically the wettest.

But Lewis said Thursday that most of Arkansas has been upgraded to severe drought. Northeast and southwest regions are in the extreme drought category, while some parts of northwest Arkansas were abnormally dry.

"It's been dry all across the state," he said.

The lack of rain has been taking its toll on the state's rice and soybean crops, and other vegetation is beginning to dry out as well, a sure sign of little moisture in the air.

''The old forecast rule of thumb is when it starts turning brown outside, it'll be a lot easier to reach 100 degrees,'' Lewis said.