Short-Term Drought Eases...Long-Term Drought Persists
(Throughout this report, click each image to enlarge)
Near to above normal precipitation since February (especially February and April) has allowed for improvement in short-term drought conditions across the region, most notable over far eastern Kansas. Changes in short-term drought affects shallow soil moisture, which in turn affects crops and other agricultural aspects, as well as river and stream levels. However, despite this short-term improvement, long-term drought continues regionwide, due to 10-20 inch precipitation deficits that date back to 2011, with conditions worsening as one travels west across Kansas. The persistent long-term drought remains evident through inspection of well below normal reservoir levels, aquifers, wells and deep soil moisture deficits. Bottom-line, it will take a lot more precipitation to defeat this long-term drought, probably on the order of 8-15 inches above the normal amount.
Will the long-term drought end anytime soon? The long-range outlook through the spring and summer remains uncertain, with equal chances of near, above or below normal precipitation. However, as the below-right image (drought outlook) illustrates, it bodes well that spring/summer is approaching, as this time of year typically boasts higher precipitation totals across the region. Consequently, if the drought is going to break (or at least be inflicted a substantial blow), the region needs to receive above normal precipitation this spring/summer. Furthermore, this widespread rainfall cannot come all at once, lest it runs off too quickly and does not soak into the ground. The rainfall needs to occur over intervals of time (e.g. two-inches this week, another inch next week, etc).
| Current Drought Conditions
Kansas Historic Long-Term Precipitation Deficits
How do Kansas precipitation deficits the past couple years compare to historical precipitation deficits since the late 1800s? The below table illustrates Kansas' 10-driest March-February's since 1895. Annual rainfall totals across the nine Kansas climate divisions are averaged to come up with the totals in the below table. Periods ending in 2013 are red, while periods ending in 2012 are blue. The data was obtained from the National Climatic Data Center's (NCDC) time series plots.
Notice that Kansas precipitation from March-February 2012-13 was the 10th driest year on record, which rivals historically very dry years since 1895. Additionally, the 2 and 3-year averages ending in 2013 also rival some of the historically very dry years of the 1930s and 1950s. For instance, 2011-13 was the 10th driest 2-year period on record, and 2010-13 was the 20th driest 3-year period on record, and still about 10 inches below the 3-year normal. However, notice the relatively wet 5-year periods from 2007-12 and 2008-13. Contrast this to the extremely dry years of the '30s and '50s. Consequently, the lack of rainfall the past 1, 2 and 3 years is most certaintly rivaling some of the historically very dry periods of the 1930s and 1950s, although long-term 5-year and longer precipitation deficits do not yet rival the 1930s and 1950s.
Kansas 10-Driest Periods Since 1895 (114 Years)...March--February
(Periods Ending in 2013 Red/2012 Blue)
(Normal = 27.52 Inches)
(Normal = 55.11 Inches)
(Normal = 82.71 Inches)
(Normal = 137.87 Inches)
||57.67 1954-57|| 97.23 1952-57
||60.84 1952-55||109.11 1933-38
||63.43 1953-56||110.72 1932-37
|19.42 1934-35||42.03 1916-18
||64.09 1932-35||112.32 1936-41
||66.05 1934-37||113.41 1953-58
||66.89 1935-38||113.66 1934-39
||67.11 1936-39||113.79 1935-40
||67.16 1937-40||117.29 1930-35
||69.35 1933-36||117.82 1910-15
||69.56 1916-19||118.06 1931-36
|20.34 2012-13 (10th Driest)
||44.97 2011-13 (10th Driest)||73.53 2010-13 (20th Driest)||139.78 2008-13 (48th Wettest)
|24.63 2011-12 (31st Driest)
||53.19 2010-12 (46th Driest)||86.33 2009-12 (45th Wettest)||153.48 2007-12 (14th Wettest)
Past Precipitation Totals and Departures From Normal
(30-Day, 60-Day, 90-Day, 6-Month, 1-Year, 2-Year)
The below images (courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center) represent precipitation totals, departures from normal and percent of normal the past 30, 60, 90 days, the past 6-months, and the past one and two years across Kansas. The unit of measure is inches. Precipitation includes rainfall, melted-down snow, sleet, freezing, hail, etc. For the departures and percent of normal maps, oranges and reds indicate drier conditions, while blues and purples indicate wetter conditions. Notice the relatively wet conditions over the past 3 to 6 months, mainly over the eastern half of Kansas. Click each image to enlarge.
|Precipitation Past 30-Days
||30-Day Departure From Normal
||30-Day % of Normal|
|Precipitation Past 60 Days||60-Day Departure From Normal||60-Day % of Normal
|Precipitation Past 90 Days
||90-Day Departure From Normal
||90-Day % of Normal|
|Precipitation Past 6-Months||6-Month Departure From Normal
||6-Month % of Normal|
|Precipitation Past 1-Year
||1-Year Departure From Normal
||1-Year % of Normal|
|Precipitation Past 2-Years||2-Year Departure From Normal||2-Year % of Normal|
Comparing Past Droughts
How does the current drought compare to past droughts? Most experts are claiming the drought of 2011-13 to be the worst long-term drought to grip the nation since 1988, and many are beginning to compare the intensity of the current drought with the horrendous droughts of the 1930s and 1950s, especially across the Great Plains and Midwest. However, the overall longevity of the current drought does not yet rival those of the '30s and '50s.
The below graph depicts historical drought severity across Kansas since 1895, using the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Widely considered to be an excellent indicator of long-term drought severity, the PDSI uses a comprehensive blend of precipitation, temperature and soil moisture to determine long-term drought severity. Negative values indicate drought conditions, while positive values indicate wet and drought-free conditions. Notice how the 2012-13 drought is starting to rival past devastating droughts. Image courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).
|Kansas Historical Droughts (click to enlarge)|
|Kansas Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) values since 1895. Negative (yellow) values denote drought, positive (green) values denote wet or drought-free conditions. Note: 2013 is the yellow line to the far right. It measures about -3.3, which is beginning to rival some of the worst droughts on record.
Below is another way of graphically depicting severe droughts across the nation since 1900. The images are courtesy of the Western Regional Climate Center. Widely considered to be an excellent indicator of long-term drought severity, the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) is highlighted in each image below. The PDSI uses a comprehensive blend of precipitation, temperature and soil moisture to determine long-term drought severity. Red indicates very dry conditions, blue indicates very wet conditions. Click on each image to enlarge.
The current drought has no doubt negatively impacted most agricultural aspects across the region, from cattle ranchers to winter wheat growers. Due to the dry fall in 2012, winter wheat took a hard hit. As of early November 2012, it was reported that the status of winter wheat across the parched Midwest was at its lowest point since 1985, and hay supply was at its lowest point since 1974. The decreased hay and crop yields caused feed prices to rise, forcing some ranchers to sell livestock. Hay thefts were reported throughout the region, and unfortunately a Wagoner, Oklahoma man was shot in a dispute over hay bales. Range and pasture lands have been impacted, as well as stock water supplies.
The following statistics compiled from late February to late April 2013 by the USDA clearly depict the adverse agricultural impacts the drought has inflicted across Kansas, although wet conditions as of late have allowed these numbers to improve some over the past few months:
Winter Wheat Condition: 12% very poor, 24% poor, 41% fair, 22% good, 1% excellent.
Range and Pasture Condition: 39% very poor, 29% poor, 25% fair, 6% good, 1% excellent.
Feed Grain Supplies: 22% very short, 25% short, 52% adequate, 1% surplus.
Hay and Forage Supplies: 36% very short, 35% short, 28% adequate, 1% surplus.
Stock Water Supplies: 28% very short, 29% short, 42% adequate, 1% surplus.
|Crop Moisture Index (Most Useful During Warm Season)
||Soil Moisture and Anomalies
(Most Useful During Warm Season)
|Vegetation Health Index (Current) - Most Useful During Warm Season
||Vegetation Health Index (1-Year Ago) - Most Useful During Warm Season
|Most useful during the warm season. The Vegetation Health Index (VHI) uses thermal and moisture conditions to estimate crop condition and anticipated yield. It can be useful for an advanced prediction of crop losses. Warmer colors indicates relatively unhealthy vegetation (red/pink is least healthy), while cooler colors represent relatively healthy vegetation (green/blue is most healthy). Please refer to the Center for Satellite Applications and Research for more information.|
|Vegetation Health (Change from Last Week) Most Useful During Warm Season||Vegetation Health (Change from Last Year)
Most Useful During Warm Season
|Most useful during the warm season. Rust colors indicate less healthy vegetation compared to last week/last year, while turquoise colors indicate healthier vegetation compared to last week/last year.|
Above normal precipitation the since February has allowed some rivers and streams to return to near normal stream flows, although many are still running below normal. Due to long-term precipitation deficits, area reservoir levels are well below normal. Cheney reservoir, one of the primary water sources for the Wichita area, is reportedly around 40% below normal water levels. The low reservoir levels have also hampered recreational activities. Furthermore, ground water, well and aquifer supplies are well below normal. Click each image below to enlarge.
Historical Kansas Hydrological Droughts
Arkansas River Streamflow near Wichita Since 2008
Kansas Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) values since 1895. PHDI reflects long-term drought severity associated with streamflow, reservoir and groundwater levels. Negative values denote drought, positive values denote wet or drought-free conditions. Note: The yellow line to the far right denotes 2013. It measures about -3.3, which is beginning to rival some of the worst hydrological droughts on record. Image courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).
Arkansas River (near Wichita) streamflow since 2008. The solid black line is actual streamflow; blue denotes above normal flow, green near normal, and yellow/maroon below normal. The bottom extent of the maroon curve is record low flow. Notice the record to near record low flow during portions of 2011, 2012, and currently early in 2013.
The below long-range outlook images are courtesy of the Climate Prediction Center (CPC).
Other Useful Resources
Please contact us with any questions or comments regarding this drought page, or about drought or climate in general.
Eric Schminke or Andy Kleinsasser
Drought Focal Points
National Weather Service
2142 S. Tyler Rd
Wichita, KS 67209