Is Kansas experiencing a new drought of record?
People in this state like to joke with visitors: "If you don't like the weather here, wait 10 minutes..." But lately, the joke's been on Kansas, the state is entering into it's third consecutive year of drought. In fact, Kansas may be experiencing a new drought of record.
"Every county has experienced drought conditions in 2012," said Tracy Streeter, Director of the Kansas Water Office in Topeka. "I think that's evident in the fact that Governor Brownback has declared all 105 counties a drought emergency." Each county has also been declared a disaster area by the Secretary of Agriculture.
When State officials start looking at preparations for times like these, they base their decisions on the drought of record. For Kansas, the drought of record was set by the dry spell from 1952 to 1957.
"Of course, then you go back to the 30's, that was our last long-term drought that we don't have any record on as far as measurement," Streeter said. "We look at '52 to '57 as our worst-case-scenario to date, so we're comparing to that." To compare the droughts of then and now, Streeter turns to the United States Geological Survey's website. He pin-pointed July of 1954, and 2012 — the second year of each drought.
"In year two of our drought, we're worse off than they were in year two of the historic drought," Streeter said. The USGS map comparison illustrates water movement for that time period.
"Who knows if we're going to get into the drought of record right now, but what's alarming...is that our average monthly stream-flow is less than 10 percent of the normal flow," Streeter added.
At the National Weather Service, meteorologists say dry conditions will persist into the foreseeable future.
"The drought right now is expected to continue," said Vanessa Pearce, Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wichita. "There's not anything that's saying there's going to be a surge of precipitation." Long-term forecasts predict a normal amounts of precipitation.
"Even for now, because there's so much of a deficit, just getting normal precipitation doesn't mean it's making an impact," Pearce said. The Kansas Water Office's Kansas 2013 Drought Update packet from early February indicates the State would need an average of 6.04 inches of precipitation to end drought conditions. Of the nine regions, North Central Kansas needs the most precipitation, with 8.26 inches.
"We're going to need some pretty good rainfall to get some run-off to start filling lakes and get stream-flow going again," Streeter said. "Just because we have soil that's dry, ponds that are empty, it's going to take some pretty good run-off to fill everything up." During the Winter months, precipitation has been sparse.
In mid-to-late Febuary, Kansas received large amounts of snow, some areas saw record amounts of snow. But the US. Drought Monitor says the State is still experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions. The snow helped, but not enough to break the drought.
"Does that make an impact? Of course," Pearce said. "...the water equivalency of a lot of that isn't very much." With a wet snow, that accumulates such as Kansas experienced recently, the ratio works out to about one inch of water per five inches of snow. If the snow doesn't accumulate, the ratio is closer to one inch of water for every 10 inches of the white stuff.
When dry conditions persist, officials use a variety of indicators to measure the drought's intensity.
Some drought indicators are soil moisture, crop moisture, a satellite vegetative health index, and seven-day average stream flow. So what is being done to battle the dry weather?
"About all you can do when you're in a drought is, you've got to look at curtailing usage," Streeter said. "You can't make water, you're either going to have to have a lot in storage, or reduce your demand." From a State level, the Director at the Kansas Water Office said water usage restrictions are left to the individual communities.
"We really respect the decision making at the local level, because it's so highly variable," Streeter explained. "Even though we've got drought conditions that exists, there are communities that are better prepared to get through it than others." The State is looking into places that could reach critical water levels, as the third year of the drought continues.
"What we are trying to do is identify those communities that might be drought vulnerable so we're prepared to help them if needed," Streeter said. "The Governor has sent a letter to every public water supplier in Kansas asking them to go evaluate their well, or lake...and report back to us." To help decrease the stress put on local water sources, Streeter said it's the little things people can do, such as limiting lengths of showers, making sure the faucet is off when it's not needed while cooking, etc.
"To curb demand, we're going to have to look at some big-scale things, such as outdoor watering and things like that," Streeter added. "We are working with folks that are utilizing water from other federal reservoirs across Kansas to conserve as lake levels get low." As far as when this drought will be over, let's give it another 10 minutes, hopefully it won't last three or more years.
"I don't want to see a flood, but if we could get a two, three or four incher that comes pretty quick, that's going to cause water to run," Streeter said.
"It's a risky game...who knows what's going to happen," Pearce said. "Who knows if a big system is going to come through."