Drought sure to persist
By MIKE CORN
To be sure, weather conditions have moderated in recent weeks, but there's little chance rainfall deficits -- in many cases significant -- will be erased before spring returns.
Meteorologist Jesse Lundquist would almost stake his reputation on it.
The deficits are just that big, he said.
Lundquist is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Goodland and has watched as the gap between normal and actual precipitation has widened.
Hill City, he said, has received 9.72 inches of rain so far this year.
Normal rainfall for the year should be 20.93 inches, he said -- a gap of 11.21 inches. Normally, November and December only contribute about 1.5 inches to the precipitation total.
Goodland's had 8.94 inches; normal should be nearly twice that amount.
Both Smith Center and Alton have only received about 40 percent of their normal precipitation since May.
Hays is nearly 7 inches behind normal, receiving about two-thirds of what it's expected to receive.
As a result, much of the area remains in an exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor based in Lincoln, Neb.
The area covered by the exceptional drought has been shrinking, as rain has fallen, but nearly three-fourths of the state remains in either an exceptional or extreme drought, the two most serious classifications.
While much of the blame for the ongoing drought had been pinned on a strong La Nina in the Pacific Ocean, conditions were expected to improve as an El Nino -- a warming of the waters, the opposite effect of a La Nina -- took over.
That El Nino, however, has failed to coalesce, making forecasting for the winter difficult.
Lundquist said it's dicey anyway making long-range predictions.
"It seems to change every day," he said.
An El Nino, research has shown, is something of a neutral factor for weather in the Goodland forecast area.
"We can go either way with an El Nino," Lundquist said. "Unfortunately, that doesn't help us, but it doesn't hurt us."
Still, above normal temperatures are being forecast for the next three months, while precipitation stands an equal chance of either above normal or below normal.
"It's kind of vague," he said.
Either way, it's unlikely northwest Kansas will see precipitation dramatically above normal, wiping out any deficit.
"We would have to have some incredible amounts of precipitation by the end of the year to make it normal," he said.
He doubts that will happen.
The official forecast for the drought suggests the drought in Kansas and much of the Plains will persist or even intensify.
Burn bans remain in the place in most counties in northwest Kansas, according to the Kansas Adjutant General's office.