Winter weather outlook could improve
A storm system that could drop from one to three inches of rain in western Kansas the weekend of Oct. 8 would help replenish parched soils and get the just-planted 2012 wheat crop off to a good start. Moreover, for many farmers, this rain opportunity represents relief from a drought that has persisted since 2010.
This rain event could impact some of the most parched areas of western Kansas, from north to south, starting west and moving eastward very slowly, according to Jerilyn Billings, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wichita. Areas of western Oklahoma and Texas also could receive much-needed rain. "It's one of the best chances we've had in quite a while," Billings said.
Unfortunately, the relief is temporary, she added. "This system will provide some slight relief, but isn't going to break the drought. We need more and more of these storm cycles to break it."
The dry and warm pattern has been brought about by a La Nina pattern, in which Pacific Ocean surface temperatures are unusually cool. La Nina is a global phenomenon, which typically results in warmer and dryer than normal conditions in the central Plains. Unfortunately, La Nina has returned this fall and will continue into winter.
"The major climate patterns like La Nina have really affected us," Billings said. "We have a cycle of hot, dry weather that is just continuing. Thus, the rain showers we have received have not been well-organized, which results in isolated showers. We just haven't had good, organized weather patterns which lead to widespread rain events."
A line across Kansas represents the dividing line between normal temperatures and precipitation and below normal precipitation and higher temperatures. For that reason, southern Kansas will continue to experience dryer and warmer conditions than normal. In fact, historical data gathered by the National Weather Service in Wichita indicates that the probabilities of a warmer and drier than normal fall and winter tend to increase, after an extremely hot summer. That has been the case in 2011.
The weather outlook at the beginning of 2012, however, appears to be more optimistic. The Climate Prediction Center outlook from January to March says Kansas weather should be normal. "Neither temperatures nor precipitation should deviate a great deal from the 30-year normal," she said.
Getting back to normal would be a relief for many Kansas farmers, who have suffered dramatic crop losses due to weather extremes the last few years. And like all trends, this dry period will someday end, she added.
"These are just cycles. It was just a few years ago that we had excess rain. We will get back to normal again," Billings said.