Uncharacteristic rain in eastern Idaho helps and hurts

Uncharacteristic rainstorms washed over eastern Idaho this week. They were a blessing to some and a curse to others.

“This (August rains) is extremely rare,” said Dan Valle, a National Weather Service forecaster in Pocatello.

The Idaho Falls Regional Airport recorded .87 inches of rain through the week, Valle said. The airport averages .10 inches for the entire month of August. But Valle said rainfall amounts varied throughout the region, so the precipitation at the airport might not be telling of rainfall around Idaho Falls and other areas.

“If you’ve been underneath one of the thunderstorms, you could pick up two inches in an hour,” he said.

Many officials said the dousing was a welcome sight as it bolstered crops and fisheries. However, some alfalfa farmers took a hit.

University of Idaho Extension educator Lance Ellis said the rains affected alfalfa farmers, specifically those who had cut alfalfa and were waiting for it to dry before it was bailed.

“(It) significantly decreased the quality on their hay, and therefore the price they could get per ton,” he said. “(The rain) washes it out and turns it brown and it doesn’t have the same value.”

Rain also reduces the amount of protein in the hay, Ellis said, making it no longer suitable for dairy cows. Since hay is a valuable crop this year, Ellis said farmers still will be able to sell it.

“In spite of it not having as good of value, there is still demand for it,” Ellis said. “It will decrease its value, but it’s all very subjective as far as who is buying and who is selling.”

As far as other crops, Ellis said they are mostly fine. Grain that hasn’t been harvested benefited from extra water, he said, and grains already harvested will need only a few extra days to dry. Potato farmers welcomed the rain.

“Basically, it means more water on the spuds, so it’s a good thing,” he said.

For wildland firefighters, rain is always welcome.

“Obviously its been a blessing, no doubt,” said Lynn Ballard, spokesman for the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center.

Ballard said mid-August is generally when fire season picks up in eastern Idaho. He said the downpour dampened the fuel in the mountains, but the affect on the season going forward is unknown.

“This is good because the fuels aren’t as dry as they would be,” he said. “We may not see an increase in fire behavior, but we have to wait and see what happens next week.”

Ballard said a couple weeks of hot weather would negate the help last week’s rain brought.

The heavy showers also affected the region’s rivers and reservoirs.

Dan Garren, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional fisheries manager, said some places with heavier rain, such as Blackfoot, might see runoff to the point of clouding the water, hurting visibility for fishing.

But most areas are reporting only enough runoff to cool the water down, making the fishing better.

“I think all things considered, this is a positive benefit to the fisheries,” Garren said.

As far as the forecast goes, Valle said rainstorms could make a return to the area late next week.

Reporter Aubrey Wieber can be reached at 542-6755.