Rain had been in the forecast for a few days. Our weather apps said 100% chance. We scoffed. We'd heard that before.
Other than a few sprinkles here and there, we hadn't had any real precipitation since June. Every time the forecast looked like maybe we'd get something, we wouldn't. A few sprinkles. A storm that split or fizzled before it got here. We'd seen high percentage chances in recent weeks result in too little water even to clear the dust from the rain gauge.
The drought of 2021 has been relentlessly dusty, smoky and hot. We've watched the crops falter and the grasses burn up. We've talked to people who are selling down their herds and some who are considering leaving the business all together. We've lost hope.
But suddenly, late at night on Aug. 19, we heard it. Rain. And not just a few drops, but heavy drops that didn't stop. Through the night and into the next morning, it kept falling, off and on, steadily and gently. The next morning, I went out to feed my girls' cats in it. I got soaked. It felt wonderful. By the night of Aug. 20, we had 3.5 inches in the rain gauge.
I've been thinking a lot about what that 3.5 inches was worth. It won't save the crops, the hayland or the pastures. The ranchers who've sold down their herds didn't jump the gun; there simply won't be enough feed to get them through the winter, and this recent storm doesn't change that.
I suppose, if one wanted to put a monetary value on those 3.5 inches, they could get an agronomist's opinion of how much yield the soybeans might have gained with that rain or how much heavier the corn might be. I'm sure there's some way to assess it. For us, it might mean some extra bales of hay off of a field of forage that my husband waited to cut, just in case we actually got some rain. But it won't add up to much. There may be a value in having that moisture in the soil for next year, but again, that's hard to measure and a long ways off.
But even if that 3.5 inches results in a net zero on the balance sheet — which is pretty likely — it still has value.
In 2019, we couldn't miss a rain storm. If the forecast said 10% chance, we'd get an inch. If it was supposed to go around us, it'd hit us, straight on. It was cool and dreary all spring, summer and fall. We were down-trodden and tired. A warm, sunny day was a balm to our weary souls.
This year, obviously, has been the opposite. We'd love to have a small portion of that 2019 rain and a few of those unseasonably cool days. But even that one-day storm did an awful lot to lift our spirits.
So, what did that 3.5 inches of rain give us? It gave us just a glimpse of relief from what has ailed us. It cooled down our over-heated spirits and provided a slight feeling of normalcy, if only for a few days.
It gave us hope. I don't know for sure what that's worth. But it's certainly better than nothing.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.