Western Kansas remains very dry with significant impacts on agriculture

Share Tweet Email

Heavy rains, as mentioned in an earlier eUpdate about “toad stranglers”, had been prevalent in eastern Kansas up until June. Drought, on the other hand, has many definitions and tends to creep into the weather discussions. This has been occurring in western Kansas this year and is rapidly becoming more widespread this month. The Glossary of Meteorology defines drought as “A period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently prolonged for the lack of water to cause serious hydrologic imbalance.” In everyday terms, it is generally defined as a period when water is insufficient for existing demands. In Kansas, drought declarations, which trigger specific actions, are issued by the Governor’s office.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor has been active since 2000. This resource is produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The U.S. Drought Monitor website is hosted and maintained by the National Drought Mitigation Center. The weekly monitor integrates hundreds of monitoring measures, including the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI), the standardized precipitation index (SPI), stream flow, evaporative demand, soil moisture and vegetative health (Figures 1 and 2). Despite all these parameters, a major input to the Drought Monitor is observed impacts on the ground. These include photos, reports of conditions from the public, and water supply levels. Inputs are a collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies. The Monitor is updated each week on Thursday with data cutoff on Tuesday morning.

Figure 1. Drought classification (Source: US Drought Monitor).

The U.S. Drought Monitor is used by policymakers and media in discussions of drought and in allocations of drought relief. As part of its response to the drought of 2012, the USDA streamlined the process for secretarial disaster declarations, making declarations nearly automatic for a county shown in severe drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor for eight consecutive weeks.


Figure 2. Latest U.S. Drought Monitor for Kansas with explanation of categories (National Integrated Drought Information System – NIDIS). Source: https://www.drought.gov/drought/states/kansas?places=Garden%20City%2C%20KS

Conditions in Southwest Kansas

The Southwest Division is the epicenter for the most severe conditions currently displayed on the US Drought Monitor. Precipitation deficits since November illustrate just how dry it has been, with departures as much as 5 inches and localized higher amounts (Figure 3). A five-inch deficit in the southwest relates to a one third of their annual average moisture.

Figure 3. The last 180 days of precipitation departure in Kansas as seen on the Kansas Mesonet (mesonet.ksu.edu).

Precipitation alone does not capture all the components of drought.  Temperature and wind are contributors to the evapotranspiration rates, or the amount of water used by vegetation. Temperatures in the Southwest Division have been much warmer than normal to start June, as can be seen at the Garden City Mesonet station (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Daily temperatures at Garden City Kansas Mesonet station with June temperatures circled in blue. Data source: mesonet.ksu.edu/weather/maxmin

Conditions in the southwest are verified by reports on the ground. Substantial ground cracking from dry soil and a poor wheat stand in Scott Co reflect such conditions (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Substantial ground cracks. Photo submitted by Josh Coltrain from Scott County, KS (twitter.com/josh_coltrain).

Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks

Unfortunately, conditions are unlikely to improve anytime soon.  Both the 6-10 and 8-14 day outlooks favor warmer-than-normal temperatures. The 6-10 day precipitation outlook is for drier-than-normal conditions across the state. Also, the quantitative precipitation outlook for the next week indicates that less than a tenth of an inch of rain is expected anywhere in the state (Figure 6).  In Garden City, the normal daily precipitation amount is a tenth of an inch.  In Parsons, the normal daily precipitation is 0.20 inches.

Figure 6. Precipitation forecast by the Weather Prediction Center (https://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov).

You can help!

More often than not when decision-makers are updating drought conditions, they lack on-the-ground truth of impacts. You can help remedy this issue! Please don't hesitate to send photos to either our Twitter account (twitter.com/ksmesonet) or via email at kansas-wdl@ksu.edu . Of the most help are photos of the current conditions (wet, dry, normal - we want them all!). Even more useful are impact photos from the same location in comparison to a previous time. For example, taking a photo once a month from the same area/view can greatly describe the changes due to drought (or wetness). Reports of agriculture impact and/or water supply are also extremely useful.  

Summary of current conditions and the Drought Monitor

  • The U.S. Drought Monitor quantifies current conditions relative to precipitation trends and respective impacts.
  • Extreme drought exists in southwest Kansas with significant agriculture impacts observed.
  • Current forecasts for the remainder of the month predict substantial dryness and above normal temperatures to continue for most of the state.


Mary Knapp, Weather Data Library

John Holman, Cropping Systems

Chip Redmond, Kansas Mesonet Manager

Tags:  Drought SW Kansas drought monitor