Timely, well-placed rains continue to nibble away at the drought that has shackled Kansas for the past two years.
The rains have essentially erased the short-term drought in the eastern half of the state, said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service who focuses on drought issues. They also “put a pretty good dent” in the long-term drought, he said.
Although nearly 75 percent of the state remains in some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, weather officials are heartened by recent data.
“It’s the least ominous drought monitor map I’ve seen in probably more than a year,” Kleinsasser said.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, the short-term drought has ended in southeast Kansas, which includes the Wichita metropolitan area. Central Kansas needs 3 to 6 inches above-normal precipitation to end the short-term drought, while western Kansas needs as much as a foot of rain.
But those measurements don’t include rains – some of them heavy – that fell in western and central parts of the state last week. A half-dozen locations logged rainfall totals of at least 5 inches, AccuWeather senior vice president Mike Smith said.
At least 4 inches of rain fell late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning in two different spots in the southern edge of the Cheney Reservoir watershed area of Reno County. That should help replenish the lake, which is Wichita’s primary source of water.
Water levels that were at 58 percent in early March had recovered to more than 73 percent as of Thursday.
“I would count this as an excellent week in terms of making substantial progress with regard to the drought,” Smith said in an e-mail response to questions.
Recent rains have prompted Wichita city officials to table some of the water conservation measures being considered to extend the life of Cheney Reservoir as a source of the city’s water.
Further gains against the drought can be expected this summer, if a forecast by the Climate Prediction Center proves accurate.
That forecast calls for the drought to vanish in the eastern half of the state, including Wichita, by the end of September. The drought will linger in the Gypsum Hills of southern Kansas and the southern Flint Hills, according to the forecast, but even those areas should see improvement.
The western half of Kansas – essentially west of U.S. 281 – will see the drought persist, however.
“The western third to western half of the state is still in pretty tough shape,” Kleinsasser said.
The next week or so is shaping up to be hot and dry, Kleinsasser said, though an occasional thunderstorm could pop up and offer relief. The dry spell shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of what can be expected the rest of the summer, he added.
Data collected by the weather service shows the lack of rainfall over the past one to three years rivals some of the driest periods on record in Kansas – including the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. But the precipitation deficits of five years or longer do not rival the historically dry years of the 1930s and 1950s.