Agriculture

Rain finally fell on Kansas. But is it enough to lower wildfire risk, help farmers?

Ground is scorched after a fire north of Harper Kans., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Flames driven by winds gusting up to 50 mph hamper efforts of units from several surrounding towns.
Ground is scorched after a fire north of Harper Kans., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Flames driven by winds gusting up to 50 mph hamper efforts of units from several surrounding towns. Bo Rader

While most of Kansas is experiencing a drought, brief rainstorms throughout the Sunflower State late Sunday and early into Monday morning brought temporary relief to extremely dry conditions.

There was "quite a range" in rainfall across the state, said meteorologist Eric Schminke with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

In Wichita, 0.97 inches of rain were measured. Other parts of south-central Kansas, including Hutchinson, received 2 inches of rain, Schminke said. In southeast Kansas, he said rainfall varied from 0.47 inches to 1.24 inches. In the western part of the state, Dodge City got 1.03 inches of rain.

And while Schminke considered those values a "tremendous" amount of rain, a state climatologist said it will do little to lower wildfire risks or help agriculturists who are farming in Kansas' dry conditions.

"The risk of (wildfires) will be reduced for a couple of days, but (that rain) is not going to prevent it for the rest of the season," K-State climatologist Mary Knapp said. "And the reason for that is the fuels that really contribute to wildfire activity at this time year are grasses and shrubs that can dry out really, really quickly - literally in an hour."

So while the rain will help with soil moisture levels, Knapp said, it was not enough to reduce the "minefields" of fire danger.

"We can't let our guard down because of some rain," she said. "We'll take it, but it won't address this (water) shortage at all."

For Kansas' drought conditions to improve, Knapp said the state would need to return to its normal rainfall pattern. For example, Knapp said Manhattan would need about 0.10 inches of rain a day throughout the season to return to normal conditions.

But that is not expected.

"Farmers shouldn't expect any rain for the rest of the week," Schminke said.

Rather, "it will be sunny, windy and with humidity down in the teens" toward the end of the week, Knapp said.

As of March 13, nearly 20 percent of the state was enduring either an extreme or exceptional drought, stretching along and south of the Arkansas River from just west of Wichita to the Colorado line.

DroughtChart.jpg
As of March 13, nearly 20 percent of the state was enduring either an extreme or exceptional drought, stretching along and south of the Arkansas River from just west of Wichita to the Colorado line. Courtesy photo United States Drought Monitor

A severe drought has been recorded in 56 percent of the state, and a moderate drought covers an additional 26 percent of Kansas.

Less than 2 percent of the state — in the very northwest corner — is not in a drought. At this time last year, 31 percent of the state was not in a drought.

"So we’ll take this rain, but we’ll need to have it continue and start ramping up as we move into our spring season," Knapp said.

Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a drought declaration for all 105 Kansas counties on March 13.

(FILE VIDEO -- MARCH 5, 2018) A western Kansas wildfire broke out 5 miles west of Ashland and quickly raced out of control in 20 to 30 mph winds.

Kaitlyn Alanis: 316-269-6708, @KaitlynAlanis
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