When July began, people in the Wichita area were fretting about an expected heat wave that seemed poised to reinvigorate a waning 2-year-old drought.
But as August arrives, Wichita’s concerns have flipped to the other extreme: flooding.
“What a difference a few weeks make,” said Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Dodge City.
As mid-July approached, “we were going, ‘Oh, no. Here we go’” into another phase of drought, said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the weather service.
From June 1 to July 13, only 0.18 of an inch of rain fell in Wichita.
By the end of the month, however, only three Julys were wetter than this one for Wichita. Most of the 7.69 inches fell in a nine-day span late in the month, triggering street flooding in Wichita and flash floods in places like Moundridge, Lindsborg and Newton. Numerous motorists had to be rescued after driving into water covering streets and roads.
To put this rainy July into perspective, only 0.26 of an inch fell in all of July 2012 and 1.45 inches in July 2011. In fact, the three Julys prior to 2013 saw a combined rain total of only 8.03 inches – barely more than last month alone.
Late July must have left residents of the eastern half of the state thinking the monsoons had migrated to the Sunflower State. Thunderstorms repeatedly passing over the same areas dumped 6 inches of rain or more in many parts of the Flint Hills and southern Kansas.
“This is more typical of the season, actually,” Hutton said. “Part of the reason we had the drought was we weren’t getting these rains.”
Domes of high pressure set up over the Great Plains each of the past two summers, Kleinsasser said. This year, the dome stayed farther south, allowing the jet stream to swoop down from the northwest and into the Great Plains – and to bring a steady supply of storm systems with it.
Those storm systems have been interacting with abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to generate a steady string of thunderstorms across mostly central and eastern Kansas.
“You get that west-northwest flow aloft, it’s just a fantastic pattern for rain in the summer here,” Kleinsasser said.
But some areas are on the verge of getting too much of a good thing. With more rain in the forecast Friday and into the weekend, emergency management directors in the region are studying swollen rivers and creeks closely.
“If we get some more rounds of really heavy rain, especially in short periods of time, we could be looking at some continued river flooding,” Kleinsasser said. “It’s tough to say the magnitude, but the threat is definitely there.”
Along with the steady rains, the weather pattern brought much lower temperatures. Wichita, for example, set a record low high of 66 for July 28.
The average temperature for the month, 79.6 degrees, was only 1.3 degrees below normal, Kleinsasser said. But the average high of 90.5 degrees was 11 or 12 degrees lower than the average high for each of the past two years.
Wichita endured only six 100-degree days in July this year, compared to 21 last year and 24 in 2011. For the summer, 2013 has had only nine triple-digit days, compared to 27 last year and 34 in 2011.
Those numbers suggest this summer has been closer to average than those of the past few years, because Wichita averages five 100-degree days in July and 12 for the entire summer.
Turning the page to August won’t turn off the current pattern, forecasters say.
The Climate Prediction Center projects a cooler, wetter start to August in Kansas. Forecasters in Dodge City are hopeful that later rounds of showers delivered by the persisting weather pattern will be farther west than they were in late July – bringing desperately needed rain to far western and southwestern Kansas.
The longer this pattern stays in place, forecasters say, the better the chances the long-term drought can be broken.