Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

Drought danger past — for now

June 17, 2004

While dust storms roll across western Kansas, Johnson County is safe from extreme drought -- for now, at least.

Though some of Kansas resembles 1930s dustbowl conditions, a healthy dose of rain in May, nearly 7 inches, has helped northern Johnson County and Wyandotte County to get in better shape than they have been in months. Leavenworth County has also had about an inch more of rain this year than at the same point last year. But this is no guarantee that the area is out of a drought, said Mary Knapp, Kansas' state climatologist.

"It's too early to say we're really out of it because a single dry month can change the picture very, very quickly," Knapp said.

If you go anywhere west of the extreme northeast corner, Kansas was not as blessed by rainfall for May, and signs are not looking good for June. The dry conditions are creating clouds of blowing dust and cutting normal wheat crop yields in half.

There is a chance that a hot, dry summer could bring those conditions to northeast Kansas. Knapp said that thanks to May rains, it would take a while for the area to dry out as much as points west, but it was possible.

"If you miss out on a month's worth of rain at this time of the year, conditions can worsen very, very quickly," Knapp said.

Knapp said that to get out of drought conditions, the state needs a full year of normal rainfalls.

"We still haven't built up the subsoil moisture and reserves, so we're still living from storm to storm as far as water supply goes," Knapp said.

At this point, Knapp said the outlook showed an equal chance of getting or not getting adequate rainfall for the month of June, but in July, there were indications of above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall.

Crop yields may be saved if the county can get the right amount of precipitation at the right time.

"You can actually get near normal yields without normal rainfall if you get it when you need it," Knapp said.

Crops in Johnson County are in good shape so far, said Ryan Higbie of the KSU Extension office in Olathe.

"Crops are looking pretty good," Higbie said.

Wheat has turned color and the harvest is less than a week away in some fields, he said.

"The corn is up and growing pretty good, because we've been getting these timely rains," Higbie said.

Pastures are also in good shape so far, he added.

Extension agents made similar comments in Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties.

"We're really looking fairly decent," said Eugene Lanham, director for the Wyandotte County Extension Office. "The crucial point is in the next month when crops like corn need more moisture."

Leon Stites, director of the Leavenworth County Extension Office, had much of the same to report. He said Leavenworth crops look good right now, though he would feel more comfortable if the subsoil moisture would go up.

"I'm cautiously optimistic right now," Stites said. "With the way the weather patterns are going, I think we've got a good year ahead of us."

Lanham said he hasn't heard many predictions about what will come in future months, but he wouldn't put much stock in them, as they are apt to change weekly.

"It's Kansas, and you know, there's some sort of saying -- 'We're a few days from a drought and a few hours from a flood,'" Lanham said.

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