(MCT) — After flirting with drought conditions for weeks, the Chicago area is for the first time this year officially dry.
Two-thirds of Illinois is experiencing at least a severe drought, and about 9 percent is in an extreme drought or worse, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
With Cook County fully in a moderate drought for the first time in 2012, water levels in reservoirs are low, and, in Chicago, the plants are thirsty.
About 8,000 to 10,000 young trees on city parkland are "stressed out" as temperatures stay high and rain seems like a distant dream, said Adam Schwerner, the Chicago Park District's director of natural resources.
Last month, Chicago got 0.89 inches of precipitation, far below the June average of 3.45 inches, according to Weather.com's totals forO'Hare International Airport. In July the city had only seen 0.28 inches of rain through Wednesday, and the short-term forecast promises little relief.
As a result, Schwerner said, mowing crews are now on water duty and residents are being asked to lend their hoses if they live near one of the city's 580 parks.
"You figure that half of those parks have residents nearby," he said, adding that watering efforts should focus on younger, more vulnerable trees. "We could be having a good 250 parks getting watered by community members, and that would be fabulous."
And as the region's crops, lawns and gardens suffer under the oppressive heat, calls are pouring into the Chicago Botanic Garden hotline.
"Some people quite frankly have not watered at all," said Kathie Hayden, who manages the garden's plant information service line. However, she added, "Some people are over-watering."
Though conditions are tough in Chicagoland, they could be worse.
Areas in far southern Illinois are in an exceptional drought, the most dire classification.
In June, Metropolis, Ill. — along the Ohio River across from Kentucky — received less than two-thirds of its normal 3.91 inches for the month, according to Weather.com. The town had seen only three days with more than 0.1 inch of rain since June 1 before almost an inch fell there last weekend.
With all of Illinois and much of the surrounding region in the throes of drought, state climatologist Jim Angel said there is no easy solution.
"You'd need something like 6 inches to turn things around," he said. "A rain is just kind of a temporary fix right now. We need several rains in a row, and several good-sized rains, to really turn this around."
Gauging the likelihood of that happening soon, he added: "It's pretty hard to do that in July."