Archive for Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Get out, drought: Kansas currently completely free from dry status

September 28, 2016

What would eventually become Kansas was once described as an arid region barely hospitable enough for habitation.

“These vast plains may become in time as celebrated as the sandy deserts of Africa,” the explorer Zebulon Pike wrote in 1810.

Western portions of the Sunflower State were part of what was called the Great American Desert for decades. Though settlers moving into the region in the middle of the 19th century discovered they could make a living in what seemed at first to be unforgivable conditions, the Dust Bowl that defined the “Dirty Thirties” in the following century had many wondering whether the region was destined to indeed become a desert, The Wichita Eagle reports.

All of which makes what’s happening now all the more remarkable: Not 1 acre of Kansas soil is considered to be in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

There have been only four periods since 2000 that Kansas has been entirely drought-free, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Caruso said.

“It is rare to have the entire state of Kansas in drought-free status,” Caruso said.

A five-week stretch of May and June this year was drought-free. But that falls well short of the longest stretch since 2000: 31 weeks from September 2009 to April 2010, state climatologist Mary Knapp said in an e-mail response to questions.

“Kansas has been really fortunate this year with rainfall,” Larry Ruthi, meteorologist-in-charge of the Dodge City branch of the weather service, said in an e-mail response to questions.

Widespread heavy rain in April “was a real game changer for much of the central Plains,” Ruthi said.

A persistent weather pattern that brought moisture flowing from the Pacific into the central part of the country created an almost tropical environment in Kansas this summer.

“This has favored widespread significant rainfall,” Ruthi said.

Most of Kansas received more than 150 percent of its average rainfall over the past three months, he said.

This summer is one of the wettest in Wichita history and one of the wettest Septembers as well. More than 28 inches of rain fell this summer in Wichita, which nearly matches the city’s average for an entire year.

A wet final weekend for Wichita could push 2016 to second place in the soggiest Septembers on record.

That heavy rain was bad news for places such as Mulvane, which suffered through two significant floods just a few weeks apart in late summer.

But the persistent rains set the stage for what agriculture officials say could be record harvests for wheat, corn and soybeans this year.

Early September rains will help soybean and milo plants fill out the grain well, said Gary Cramer, an agronomist with the Kansas State University Extension Service.

“It’s going to help us get the wheat in the ground and get a good start on it,” Cramer said.

Even average rainfall the rest of the year should keep Kansas in good shape, he said. The subsoil is still pretty wet throughout the state, meaning it won’t have to rain long for runoff to start.

“It doesn’t take much rain to knock us out of the field,” Cramer said.

The Climate Prediction Center is projecting that the state’s drought-free status will last through at least the end of the year, meaning the streak could reach double digits in terms of weeks.

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