Dry start to winter doesn’t mean drought’s returning

12/26/2013 6:49 AM

12/26/2013 6:49 AM

There’s been precious little precipitation in Wichita and the eastern half of Kansas over the past couple of months, but weather officials say that doesn’t mean the region is slipping back into a drought.

In fact, the Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal drought outlook keeps the eastern half of the state free of drought through at least the end of March.

“In the cool season, normally, we are dry even if we receive normal precipitation,” said Mick McGuire, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service.

Since Nov. 1, just 1.20 inches of precipitation has fallen in Wichita, which is 1.18 inches below normal. But above-normal precipitation fell as recently as October, and a soggy summer helped vault Wichita’s overall precipitation to 40.42 inches for the year.

That’s a whopping 8.07 inches above normal.

It represents a dramatic swing from the early days of 2013, when city officials were warning of Cheney Reservoir drying up within a few years and threatening draconian fines for excessive water usage.

Forecasters predict a fairly typical winter for snowfall in the Wichita area, which has averaged 14.7 inches of snow over the past 30 years. But winter neither breaks nor makes a drought, McGuire said.

“It’s hard to get a big swing in the winter,” he said, because there typically isn’t much moisture for storm systems to tap into. Nor is there much evaporation because temperatures are so cold.

Robb Lawson, another meteorologist with the weather service, said folks shouldn’t read too much into winter’s dry start.

“Just because you’re dry now doesn’t mean you’re going to continue to be dry throughout the winter,” Lawson said.

He pointed to last winter as a classic example. There was precious little snowfall in Wichita until February. Then two snow storms about a week apart dumped 21 inches on the city.

Wichita went on to have the fifth-snowiest winter in history, with 30 inches of snow.

Forecasters say weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean favor an active storm period for the Great Plains, though any precipitation will be dependent on moisture being available for the storms to feed on.

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