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Rain this year, then dry

4/4/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

As weather lore goes, March came in like a lion and left a meek lamb.

But if much is to grow this spring, northwest Kansas certainly is going to need April showers -- soon.

That's unlikely, but there's a hint, according to Larry Ruthi, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Dodge City, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico once again might start making its way back north into Kansas.

It's not likely to start until the last week in April, however.

Taken in tandem with a developing El Nino -- a warming of the surface of the Pacific Ocean -- there's hope this year actually might end up slightly wetter than normal.

That might be something of an anomaly, given Ruthi's convinced the region might be in the middle of a long-term drought, and conditions just might remain dry for the next decade or so.

He admits it might be "wish-casting," to suggest the possibility of a slightly wetter year than normal, but Ruthi said there are comparisons that can be made between conditions this year and previous years.

He's not quite ready to bet the farm on increased chances for moisture this year, but he's abundantly aware of just how dry the ponds and the grass are in the Osborne County area.

"North-central Kansas is dry," he said of the area where he returns home to a farm when he's away from his daily duties at the NWS.

The area missed out on approximately half of its normal winter precipitation.

"It's building on last year's extremely dry conditions," he said.

That's the case for much of northwest and western Kansas, where drought has settled in for years.

Some parts of the region, he said, were closer to normal, but others had dismal winter precipitation amounts.

There's little hint of any immediate relief, as the region still is in a pattern preventing Gulf moisture from moving north where it can be used by weather systems as they pass through.

"There's been a hard time getting Gulf moisture," he said, much of it due to the unusually cold temperatures dipping that far south.

It's starting to look like that might be changing, Ruthi said, but it likely won't until the last week in April.

Until then, rainfall, or even rain mixed with snow, will leave abysmally small amounts of moisture.

"The Gulf is going to have a better opportunity to come back," he said of moisture tracking north into Kansas.

That also might signal a delay in the start of any severe weather for the region. It's already been slow, likely the slowest start to the severe weather season since 1990, the NWS in Wichita said.

Last year was slow as well, Ruthi said, delayed "until we got way into May."

"This year, I think we'll have a later start," he said.

As for the possibility of relief, Ruthi said there are similarities between this year's developing El Nino and 1957, and perhaps even 1963 and 2009.

In 1956, for example, total rainfall in Hays amounted to 28.33 inches, well above the long-term average of 22.75 inches.

The 1963 rainfall total was just 22.17 inches, while 2009 was 21.72 inches.

That shows a weak correlation, but Ruthi is holding out hope this year's rainfall might be near normal if not slightly above.

"I have some reason for optimism," he said.

Still, the region is in a drought.

"We're still in a long-term pattern that favors dryness," Ruthi said. "Probably for the next decade."

But even in drought, there are years when rainfall is above average, he said.

"This may be a year that may be fairly wet," Ruthi said.

Droughts, some lasting more than a hundred years, have been documented in the Great Plains.

"I hope we're not going to get into one of those," he said.