As we now enter week 7 without meaningful rain and an E.T loss over that period that runs to 6-7″ (150-175mm) of moisture, the cracks are starting to show in more ways than one.

As I walked through the parched countryside yesterday I mused that not so many months ago these same paths were almost unwalkable, such was the amount of rain we had endured, now I was staring down at deep cracks in the Leicestershire clay. It’s an oft-used term but we seem to lurch from extreme to extreme weather-wise nowadays.

The last drought / heat of this magnitude was in 1976 and showing my age I can remember it well as the first year of my teens. (showing me age now I know)

Back then it was warm and dry from January onwards, so we went into the summer already on the back foot water-wise. Rivers and lakes dried up, canals became unnavigable (and crystal clear because of the lack of boat traffic Mike :P) and spring crops failed in the fields. That year the weather broke in August and it was quite amazing how quickly things turned around and life returned to normality, the drought quickly forgotten.

2018 doesn’t equal 1976, because we had such a wet run up to proceedings and till now that’s been our saving grace from hose pipe bans and golf courses being treated like a 2nd-rate  citizens when it comes to the pecking order of who can water what. Plants are struggling though, whether it be on the golf course, in the garden or crops in the field. You only have to look at the pitiful state of late-sown spring crops or the amount of re-growth after the last silage cut to see that. Water is a resource that is no longer a given.

Last week at the ETS Conference, the question was posed a number of times…”If our water allocation was cut by 25%, could we survive ?”…I think we could and in the future it is likely in some areas of the country to come to that, such will be the competition for this resource from building and infrastructure.

We as an industry would change and adapt, just like they have in other areas of the world where water scarcity threatens. Management practices and indeed expectations would also have to change from our customer perspective, the latter may be a harder nut to crack judging by some of the comments I hear from you guys in the industry. Of course this thought process will likely disappear from the agenda when the weather breaks and we turn our focus onto the next challenge to our golf course, football pitch, racecourse (delete where applicable), most likely how to implement a satisfactory drainage policy in a wet autumn 🙂

So onto the general weather situation and has that whiff of change I mentioned last week gathered momentum or disappeared and will this be my Michael Fish moment when I forecast exactly the opposite of what will indeed occur  (Thanks Adam :))

General Weather Situation

So Monday starts off pretty much as we left off the weekend, hot dry and sunny for England and Wales with possibly more in the way of cloud over the north and east of the U.K. Quite a difference in temperature though between Scotland and Ireland sitting in the low twenties (lucky you) and down south in England and Wales where we are looking at high twenties again I think depending on your location, wind and cloud cover. The wind will swing round to the north-east through Monday and freshen. That’ll knock the temperatures back a tad in the evening and perhaps bring cooler and more pleasant night temperatures to aid a better nights sleep. (some hope)

Tuesday sees a thicker layer of cloud cover the U.K and particularly over Scotland where it may be thick enough for some mizzly drizzle in places. Down south we will see this cloud cover slowly burn off aided by a freshening north-easterly wind but across the west coasts, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, it may well prevail and that’ll keep the temperature nipped down. In fact for most of the U.K we will be noticeably cooler on Tuesday with that freshening wind keeping temperatures down in the low twenties, a pleasant transition and a cooler night to boot.

Overnight into Wednesday and we see a rain front push into Donegal and the north-west of Scotland but it’ll be short-lived and soon move off again. Again we will see plenty of thicker cloud come off The North Sea and again it’ll hug some westerly regions, particularly South Wales and the east coast of Ireland. That north-easterly wind will be a tad lighter on Wednesday so I think similar temperatures to Tuesday, around about 20°C for Ireland and Scotland and a couple of degrees higher for England and Wales. Remaining dry but again a cooler night for which to contemplate the telly and the next England World Cup match. Have to say, great to see the return of team spirit to our national side, a lack of prima donna’s and the lads enjoying the challenge, at last something positive to focus on amidst the political turmoil that is unfolding currently 🙁

Thursday sees a weak weather front push into Ireland and the west coast of the U.K bringing the potential for rain from The South West up through West Wales, The North West and south-west of Scotland. (Did I say rain ?) Inland from this we will see the familiar pattern of cloud cover burning off and a dry, bright and sunny day for most of England and Scotland with the exception of the west. Ireland looks to be cloudier with perhaps a chance of some rain across eastern counties through the 2nd half of the day. With the wind taking on a more easterly aspect I expect temperatures to ease up a degree or two towards the mid-twenties for those of you seeing the sun, low twenties for Scotland and maybe just the very high teens for Ireland under that thicker cloud.

Rounding out the week on Friday and that familiar pattern again of thicker cloud burning off but I’d say it may be persistent in some central and western areas of the U.K and Ireland. Similar temperatures to Thursday but they’ll start to climb for the weekend so maybe a degree or two up and warmer night temperatures return 🙁 Remaining dry.

So the weekend looks like being hot again although I’m not 100% on this because I think by the 2nd half of the weekend (that’s Sunday to you and me) we will see the wind edge westerly and bring cooler temperatures, initially to the north and west but by the 2nd part of Sunday, hopefully further south, but this may not occur till Monday perhaps. Now this change in wind direction would be one piece of the weather-breakdown theory that may (or may not) unfold over the next week or so and a crucial one in my books. So hot, sunny and dry for the weekend but I’ll be looking for that wind swing on Sunday. One final point is that if we do see cooler air come in, then the beginning of the breakdown will probably be accompanied by thunderstorms.

Weather Outlook

And here I fear a Michael Fish moment looms…..

So looking at Unisys weather the outlook is for the jet stream to drop south and allow low pressure to move in during the early part of next week and move us into a phase of cooler and more unsettled weather with rain. The cooler and unsettled conditions will affect the north and west first before pushing south later into next week.

There I’ve said it, that’s my take following on from my contentious ‘whiff of change’ comment in last Wednesday’s blog…

In order for our weather to change properly we need a number of things to fall into place, with the position in the jet stream the key piece in the puzzle. Since the beginning of June we have sat under a peak in the jet stream that allowed hot air to form below it and a succession of Atlantic High pressure systems to dominate. So the rain has been going up and over us. Iceland is having its wettest summer for years with less than a week of dry days since the middle of April. You’ll also have seen the weather in Russia, cool and unsettled with plenty of rain. That’s the flip side to our current weather coin.

Both Unisys and Netweather show the jet stream dropping south at the end of the weekend and that’ll allow low pressure systems to do likewise with the north initially affected and hopefully further south later into next week rain-wise.

Now there’s a big caveat with my prognosis and it is this….I can’t see a consensus out there from a weather projection perspective so this may well turn out to be a Michael Fish moment on my behalf but the cards in my hand say unsettled conditions are coming so they are the ones I’m playing…..I’ll see you and raise you ten 😛

Agronomic Notes

So if the prognosis is right, we have another week of dry, bright and settled conditions, cooler than of late with that change in wind direction and that’s reflected in the projected E.T figures for this week.

For my location the projected E.T loss is 16mm over the next 7 days, whereas last week it was around 26mm, roughly a 40% reduction.

Now last week I tried to explain the relationship between E.T and irrigation demand (badly), but the USGA Record do a much better job with this article on E.T-based irrigation scheduling here

Now of course some of you might say that’s all well and good but how do I measure E.T ?

Well you can purchase a dedicated E.T Gauge / Evapotranspiration Simulator, but that’s the thick end of $400 bucks for a posh one. Alternatively you can get a weather station that also measures E.T (Netatmo doesn’t by the way) or you can use a weather forecast system that includes projected E.T rates as part of the forecast. As you can see from the above, we include this feature as part of Weathercheck. In the U.S, where E.T is more relevant for turf and crop management systems, they have a national network of weather stations that you can check to find out the current E.T rate for your area (or an area close to you).

I looked at Weather Undergrounds network for the U.K and Davis Weatherlink and only found the odd PWS that broadcasts E.T data so clearly we are behind the curve here. The problem here though is that even a forecasted E.T figure will only be an approximation and across your site you will have big variations. For example, a golf green in full sun and with an open-aspect will run a much higher E.T than a green that is sheltered from the wind and say in shade. In turn this means that the former green will run higher E.T’s, higher plant stress levels and so be more susceptible to some of the stress-related diseases like Anthracnose and Dollar Spot to name but two.

Aeration and Stressed Turf

Clearly during periods of weather like this, aeration practices have to be well thought through and sometimes ‘less is more’. If we have grass that is on the edge of wilt for 10 hours of the day (or longer) then cultural processes that impact the leaf like verticutting / grooming, topdressing and the like isn’t in its or your best interests.

Switching to smooth rollers during stress periods has always been a big win in my mind (if budgets allow) because they put less stress on the plant but what of processes like solid tining or even using compact vertidrains with narrow tines.

Again the USGA-Record (a brilliant resource that is free to all) comes to my rescue with a nice article on mitigating summer stress. In it you’ll see there are two sides to the aeration coin. You can read the above article here.

I think this is where we need to read our turf and the weather closely because in these cooler periods of weather and particularly when we have cooler nights, then using small diameter solid tines to vent surfaces has a number of benefits. Firstly, one must remember it is possible to over-water rootzones and effectively you end up causing more harm than good. A saturated rootzone has low oxygen availability and of course as that water warms, it’s ability to hold oxygen decreases even further. So effectively we are simmering our roots if we have over-watered an area and depriving them of oxygen, cue a stressed plant. So water management and more specifically water movement becomes key and critically we need to maintain a balance of air and water in the rootzone and that’s where venting comes in. It allows areas to dry down more effectively, it increases oxygen availability and of course vents potential harmful gas build up. So this week with that cooler period mid-week would I think be a good time to vent your greens.

I have probably related this story before but I think repetition is no bad thing in this case….

During the summer of 2014, we had very high levels of Anthracnose in the UK and I visited one end-user who was particularly badly hit. Now 2-3 weeks previous to the Anthracnose rearing its ugly head, I could see the greens were on their limit from a nutrition and stress perspective and was concerned that we were staring potential Anthracnose issues in the face. That concern was well-placed because indeed we saw the disease affect most greens. I say ‘most greens’ because two were largely unaffected and when I sat down with the Superintendent to chat it through I tried to focus on what was different about those two greens management-wise. We went round the houses as usual but eventually I think we nailed it. Those two greens had been vertidrained in July with a compact vertidrain down to 8-10″, they were the only two as it happens and the benefits to me in carrying out this work before Anthracnose reared its head were clear to see.

As the referenced article above states, less can be more when it comes to aeration during stress periods and I can’t stress this enough however if you are keeping your turf on the healthy side and the weather plays ball then solid tining / vertidraining with small diameter tines in the right circumstances can pay big dividends.

Ok, that’s all for this week and time will tell if this is or is not my ‘Michael Fish moment’, that said Meteoblue’s forecasted max temps for Sunday have just dropped 2°C, so you never know.

Have a good week, keep up the sunblock and good luck to England on Wednesday night, we will all be rooting for you (well everyone except The Celts that is 🙂 )

All the best

Mark Hunt