Warm, dry February fueling drought fears

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It’s been a month since Wichita has had any precipitation of note.

It’s been so warm this month that there have been almost twice as many days with highs in the 70s in southern Kansas as there have been highs in the 30s.

In February.

Highs have topped 60 on eight of the month’s 18 days.

“That’s almost half of the month,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Darmofal said, a sliver of disbelief in his voice. “For February, that’s a pretty significant departure.”

The average temperature in February is more than 8 degrees above normal, with more upper 60s and low 70s expected this week.

“For those that like the mild weather, enjoy it,” Darmofal said. “That’s got people thinking, ‘It feels like spring out there.’ 

The warm temperatures this winter and the lack of snow — only about 2 inches so far this winter — have some folks fretting that drought is about to return. Indeed, drought or abnormally dry conditions are creeping toward central Kansas like a slowly advancing tide.

Moderate to severe drought currently grips most of the western third of the state. Abnormally dry conditions have crept as close to Wichita as Sumner and Butler counties.

“So desperate for rain or snow... anything!” a Wichita woman posted on Facebook early Friday night.

Those pleas figure to be answered soon. Forecasters are calling for a good chance of rain Sunday night and early Monday, with another round of rain possible late this week. Sunday’s rain figures to be the most since mid-January, forecasters say.

But a dry February is hardly unusual for southern Kansas, Darmofal said. Wichita averages only about an inch of precipitation during February as it is.

If the dry weather continues for another month or more, Darmofal said, that’s when local drought concerns can start to take root.

“We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out maybe a month or two down the road,” he said.

But last winter’s biggest snow came on Easter Sunday, he said.

“Some of our bigger snowfalls have occurred in March,” Darmofal said.

That includes the heaviest 24-hour snow in Kansas history.

“It’s still winter, and we could still get a couple of good snows yet,” he said.

In the meantime, enjoy the springlike weather.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger