Rains could take a bite out of drought

At long last, substantial rains are in the forecast for Wichita and much of Kansas over the next few days.

They won’t be enough to end the drought that has withered much of the region, meteorologists say, but at least it’s something.

“It’s going to help,” said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. “It’s going to help more than the small little amounts we’ve been seeing.”

Anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall across Wichita and Sedgwick County by Monday morning, said Mike Smith, senior vice president for AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions. While it comes too late to save the corn crop, “it will help with wheat planting,” he said in an e-mail response to questions.

The weather service’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center projects 4 inches of rain to fall in most of central and eastern Kansas by Tuesday morning, and at least 2 inches for the remaining portions of the eastern two-thirds of the state.

Rain was expected to move into the region overnight and should fall off and on throughout the weekend, Pearce said.

“Our greatest chances right now are Saturday during the day and Saturday during the evening,” she said.

That coincides with the BlackTop Nationals show, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of people to Wichita. While it won’t rain continuously on Saturday, Pearce said, residents and visitors can expect periods of steady rain that could add an inch or more.

The breaks in the rains through the weekend should help the thirsty soil absorb the moisture and reduce runoff, Pearce said. The same storm system produced record rains in Las Vegas as it moved through Nevada earlier this week.

The rain will be most welcome across the Midwest. Nearly all of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are in extreme or exceptional drought.

Plains farmers have begun harvesting what corn managed to survive this summer, although in some areas growers cut their fields weeks ago, chalking the year up as a loss. Many ranchers have sold livestock because they had no grass for grazing or money to buy feed, which has soared in cost.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates it will take 12 to 15 inches of rain in eastern and northeastern Kansas to end the drought, and 9 to 12 inches in a broad diagonal swath of the state that includes the Wichita metropolitan area.

Wichita is about 8 inches below normal for rainfall since June 1, Pearce said.

“June, July and August, it’s just been dry,” she said.

The three months between May and July were the driest for that period in Kansas since records began being kept in 1895, according to the National Weather Service. An average of just 5.16 inches fell around the state during that time. In addition, the period from January to July is the 13th driest on record.

It’s too soon to tell, Smith said, whether this storm system signals a shift in weather patterns that will bring rain more consistently to the region in the coming weeks.

The U.S. Agriculture Department twice has slashed its forecast for this year’s corn and soybean output because of the drought in the nation’s breadbasket. It forecast the nation’s biggest harvest ever in the spring, when farmers planted 96.4 million acres of corn – the most since 1937. But the agency has cut its estimate twice since then and now expects the nation to produce 10.8 billion bushels, the least since 2006.

If that estimate holds, the federal government says it will be enough to meet the world’s needs and ensure there are no shortages. But experts say food prices will almost certainly climb as corn is a widely used ingredient in products ranging from cosmetics to cereal, colas and candy bars.

Contributing: Associated Press

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