Americans consume more than 12 billion bushels of corn a year. With that in mind, it should come as little surprise that farmers planted nearly 92 million (yes, million) acres of corn in 2019, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s the equivalent to 69 million football fields of corn!
Most of this corn is planted in a region known as the “Corn Belt” that generally stretches from Nebraska to Ohio. The soils in that region are known for being some of the richest in the world. Nearly 40% of the world’s corn is grown and produced there.
What you may not realize is that corn releases a phenomenal amount of moisture into the air. Oftentimes, corn fields are the first to whither during a dry spell. That withering process actually helps the plant, by reducing the amount of leaf exposed to the sun and reducing moisture loss.
The process of a plant losing water is known as transpiration. All plants release moisture in the sun’s light, but some release much more than others. Corn transpires the most just as it develops tassels and silks. It is at this stage that the corn has the maximum amount of leaf area.
One acre of corn can sweat up to 4,000 gallons of water a day! That’s a lot of moisture added to the air. That means that the humidity within and downwind of corn fields is often much higher than elsewhere.
In fact, those corn fields can cause areas of the Corn Belt to be more humid than areas along the Gulf Coast! Since warm air and humidity are fuel for thunderstorms, this extra fuel from the corn fields can intensify storms in that part of the country. Storms have even been observed on radar to intensify when moving into large areas of corn fields.
The heat index, sometimes referred to as the “feels like” temperature, is based on air temperature and humidity. Since corn puts so much moisture into the air, this makes the heat index much higher in areas with corn. This can create dangerous heat index conditions in areas that wouldn’t have such heat indices were it not for corn being in the area.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” A farmer would be right to add that, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the corn field!”
Tracking Fred to Tennessee
Tropical Storm Fred made landfall on the Florida Panhandle near Destin Monday afternoon. The storm came ashore with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. The storm will weaken as it moves farther inland in the coming days.
As with any tropical storm, “Fred” will produce flooding across areas that it affects. The storm is tracking through East Tennessee today (Tuesday) and will produce heavy rainfall across the eastern half of East Tennessee and the mountains. Flood watches are in effect there.
On this path, “Fred’s” impact should be rather low around our area. The Cumberland Plateau will be on the backside of the system, where wind and rain will be lighter. The severe storm threat is often found northeast of the center of a tropical system. That part of the system will stay well away from the Plateau. Fred’s influence will be gone from the state by Wednesday.
As with any tropical system moving inland, there is a tornado threat with “Fred.” That threat will be found across the Carolinas today, moving north into Virginia overnight.
Hurricane season ends November 30th.
Bolt from the Blue
Lightning is one of Nature’s deadliest forces. Few things make us jump like a nearby streak of lightning slicing through the air! Lightning is most common in the summer months in the U.S., with many of those strikes occurring in July and August.
Many of us are familiar with the approach of dark clouds and the distant sound of thunder. Nature often gives at least some warning of the approach of a coming storm. There are times, however, when a lightning bolt can literally strike a location that has clear blue skies overhead.
Lightning is the result of an imbalance of electrical charges that build up. Liquid water in the base of a cloud, where temperatures are warmer, carries a negative electric charge. Ice particles higher in the cloud carry a positive charge. When the difference in charges builds up, a lightning strike occurs. That strike immediately balances those charges out.
The environment inside a cloud is conducive to the flow of electricity. The lightning travels easily in a saturated cloud, since water is a great conductor of electricity. This is one reason why it is believed that for every cloud-to-ground lightning strike there are four strikes within a cloud.
Conversely, lightning struggles to travel from the cloud to the ground. Air is an insulator and not a conductor of electricity. Therefore, when the negative charges of the base of the cloud become significantly imbalanced with the positive charges of the ground below, a lightning strike to balance those out is a bit more difficult to come by.
That is why lightning tends to strike the tallest objects. Less distance to travel means less air to overcome in between.
Most of the strikes that come to the ground are “negatively charged” lightning strikes. They transfer more of the negative charge from the cloud’s base than they do the positive charge from the Earth’s surface.
Sometimes, the dominant charge transfer is positive, meaning there is more a transfer of positive charges from the ground than there are negative charges from the cloud. Yes, ground-to-cloud lightning is a real phenomenon. This lightning is positively charged and is far more powerful than negatively charged lightning.
There are two other ways to get a positively charged strike. One is within the rain following a squall line of thunderstorms. It is rather common for a squall line of thunderstorms to move through and be followed by cloudy skies and steady light rain. Within that steady rain, lightning strikes are few and far between, but they tend to be positively charged.
Another way to get a positively charged lightning strike is from the anvil of a thunderstorm. The tall thunderhead of a storm encounters the upper limits of our atmosphere and spreads outward. That anvil carries ice crystals, which are positively charged.
Here’s where things get interesting. The ground beneath a thunderstorm, as I mentioned earlier, carries a positive charge. However, the ground under clear skies is negatively charged.
That means that without a storm overhead, the ground is negatively charged. If that anvil moves overhead and is dense enough with ice crystals, the charge difference between that and the ground could generate a lightning strike. That strike could travel outward a great distance, perhaps up to 30 miles, and strike an object far from the storm and possibly even underneath clear sky. Those strikes carry a powerful positive charge and are what we refer to as the “bolts from the blue.”
This is one reason we tell people that if they’re close enough to hear thunder, they’re close enough to be struck by lightning.
I recall a story I heard when I was teaching at Mississippi State and studying lightning. A storm was over Starkville and a Little League game was being played in Louisville, which was located about 25 miles away. A Little Leaguer was struck and killed by a lightning strike from the storm in Starkville. The sky in Louisville at that time was clear.
If you hear thunder roar, you are close enough to be struck. I should note that we should take shelter indoors even when we see dark clouds gather. If the first lightning strike hits you, there would be no warning thunder. Research has shown that many lightning victims are likely from the first strike the storm produced.
Lightning is certainly a fascinating phenomenon. Let’s just make sure we respect it and stay safe from its reach.
Meteorologist Mark Weather Fact
The longest single lightning bolt was confirmed at 440 miles long, according to the World Meteorological Organization. This record breaking flash happened in South America on Halloween of 2018. It occurred when a big system of massive thunderstorms bubbled up over southern Brazil. The flash was detected and measured using lightning detection equipment onboard satellites in orbit around the Earth.
Birth of a Storm
by Dr. Cosby Stone
The thunder rumbles humid air
like labor pangs for rain
the sky grows darkened, full of care
the trees begin to sway
with rustling, popping, groaning sounds
as flower petals fall around
from the myrtles in their summer bloom
a contrast to the deepening gloom.
Then lightning flashes, thunder roars!
contractions in the sky
bring forth the coming storm at last
the trees begin to sigh
and bend before the longed-for birth
that waters all the thirsty earth
with life from water’s giving flow
as we take cover down below.
(Dr. Stone is the son of Cosby and Rebecca Stone of Crossville)
Many of us were discouraged to hear that the next Moon landing may be delayed because of space suit problems. The suits used in the first moon landings were big and bulky and difficult to navigate in. There are YouTube videos that show the struggle astronauts faced trying to move in those suits on the Moon, such as the one seen below. One can hardly watch without chuckling.
Between 1969 and 1972, six landings took place on the Moon. Apollo 11 was the first. The next Apollo missions included Apollo 12,14,15,16, and 17. The 13th mission was wrought with malfunctions and unable to land on the Moon, confirming the suspicions of the superstitious that the 13th mission would be the riskiest. The next missions will be named Artemis, after the twin sister of Apollo.
Ambitious plans put forth by the Trump administration included plans for another moon landing as early as 2024. Covid has already jeopardized that goal, with so many areas of NASA short-staffed. Now, budgets are compromised (mainly due to covid) and other technical problems are leaving many to believe that the 2024 goal needs to be adjusted.
The Moon mission has left many wondering why we’re going where we’ve already been. Afterall, we’ve been to the Moon six times and seem to know as much as many people agree we should know about our only natural satellite. Still, others are looking forward to the first woman stepping on the Moon. Until now, only men have walked on a Moon that astronaut Buzz Aldrin described as “magnificent desolation”.
Early plans included traveling straight on to Mars. However, now the plan takes us back to the Moon, but this time treating it more like we do the International Space Station. In other words, this time we wouldn’t be just visiting, we’d be “kicking off our shoes and staying a while,” so to speak. Then, when we’re comfortable being on the Moon for long periods of time, we venture on to Mars.
Some people are critical of the next missions to the Moon. They wonder why we don’t just go back like we did the last time. We want to go back safer this time and take advantage of the enormous leaps in technology since those days.
Many of us can’t wait for the US to go back to the Moon. Many of us have never experienced that thrill. We just want to make sure we go safely. The goal is to get to the Moon and then get back home safe and sound.
Farmer’s Almanac Fishing Forecast
Aug 17 Poor Fishing
Aug 18 Fair Fishing in the Morning
Aug 19 Good Fishing in the Morning
Aug 20 – 21 Best Fishing in the Morning
Aug 22 – 23 Best Fishing in the Evening
Planting by the Moon
15th – 17th Cut winter wood, do clearing and plowing, but no planting.
18th – 19th A good time to plant aboveground crops.
20th – 21st Barren days, fine for killing plant pests.
22nd – 23rd Excellent for any vine crops such as beans, peas, and cucumbers. Good days for transplanting. Favorable
days for planting root crops.
Night Sky Viewing
Make sure you look for Venus in the evening sky! It will be quiet the sight! Pictured below is a guide to use over the coming week when looking at the evening sky after sunset.