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Saturday, August 5

Drought in S. Saskatchewan so bad it's causing electrical fires from ground shifting

"The hot, arid conditions are compacting and shifting the ground so much that the underground wires are yanked out of the boxes. The frayed copper wires continue to conduct electricity, and this can set off sparks and cause the wires or power meter boxes to ignite ..."

That is the strangest drought consequence I can remember learning about. 

Why didn't the same happen in California's Central Valley, given the significant land subsidence there due to overpumping of ground water during the drought? The land sinkage was big enough to crack bridges, roads and irrigation pipes.

I don't know what would explain the difference (unless it did happen in California and wasn't reported) but the CBC report (below) mentions clay soil in S. Saskatchewan. So a wild guess is that when clay soil compacts and shifts, it's got more 'power,' applies more weight on underground wires, than the other soil when it's dried out? Or maybe the wires aren't underground in the Central Valley?        

'The damage is done': Home electricity boxes igniting in Sask. drought
Regina's driest July in 130 years also threatening livestock, crops and farmers' livelihoods

By Bonnie Allen, Senior Reporter, CBC News
Aug 04, 2017 - 3:00 AM CT

[See the CBC website for dramatic video of a power meter in Regina catching fire] 

While it's not surprising that scorching heat and bone-dry conditions are baking crops and thwarting mosquitoes, this summer's drought in southern Saskatchewan [province] has also had some unexpected, and potentially dangerous, impacts.

Thousands of homes could be at risk from igniting electricity wires and meter boxes.

In its driest year since 1887, Regina only got 1.8 millimetres of rain the entire month of July, compared to its usual average 66 millimetres.

The city also had 11 days in July where temperatures soared above 30 C [86 F]. The forecast for August calls for more heat, and little rain.

The hot, arid conditions are compacting and shifting the ground so much that the underground wires are yanked out of the boxes. The frayed copper wires continue to conduct electricity, and this can set off sparks and cause the wires or power meter boxes to ignite, leaving black smoke billowing in the air.

There have been seven such fires in Regina this summer.

Saskatchewan's energy utility, SaskPower, says thousands of homes are at risk. As of Thursday, it had inspected 3,200 homes and found that 1,200 needed repairs.

"All our resources are committed to inspections, and we have no end date," SaskPower spokesperson Jonathan Tremblay told reporters. "Rain may help here and there, but certainly the damage is done."


Thirsty, hungry livestock

The drought is also having an impact on the livelihoods of livestock producers, who are warning that a looming hay shortage could have a critical impact on the industry.

Bill Aulie only harvested 1,200 hay bales this summer, compared with the usual 3,000-5,000, and it won't be enough to feed his Clydesdale horses through the winter.

[...]

Hay and water shortages could force some ranchers to reduce the size of their cattle herds, according to industry experts.

"[S]ome of those smaller guys will just sell their herds off ... and they'll be out of the cattle business," Lewis said. "It's a pretty critical situation for the industry."

Some ranchers have already lost livestock.

In early July, ranchers near Shamrock, Sask., were shocked when 200 cattle died from dehydration and salt poisoning: extreme heat evaporated the animals' water source to such an extent that the salt concentration became deadly.

The province's chief veterinarian said it was like drinking ocean water.

Drought stresses crops

Aulie says he hasn't seen a drop of rain in 53 days, and that has meant his already smaller-than-normal lentil crop is ready for harvest two weeks early.
"It didn't fully mature, but it dried up and was forced into a ripening stage," Aulie said.

He expects his canola and wheat harvest to be disappointing, as well. Aulie says his crops would have shriveled up entirely if not for last year's heavy rainfall and the clay soil in his area that retains moisture well. He also credits advanced farming practices that conserve water.


[...]

More of the same in August

Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips predicts the hot, dry weather will continue in August.

"It's almost like nature has forgotten how to rain in southern Saskatchewan," Phillips said.

Any rain would come too late to help the farmers anyway.


[END REPORT]

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