A dry late summer in northwest Kansas is progressing toward worsening swath of drought, pegged as "moderate" on the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.
While much of the state has had adequate moisture this summer to rescue a near-normal wheat crop and nourish excellent fall crops, that stubborn swath has seen diminished yields of corn and soybeans and is beginning to have grave concerns about the chances of getting next year's winter wheat crop up and growing.
Even as weather forecasters are hopeful that a strong El Nino in the equatorial Pacific will bring a wetter than normal weather pattern to the Southern Plains, the area labeled "abnormally dry" has doubled over the last three months and the area labeled "moderate drought" tripled from the week of Sept. 15 to the week of Sept. 22.
On a bright note, the area of "moderate drought" amounts to only about 5% of the state and "abnormally dry" is only 20%. That is compared to about 46% of the state in moderate drought at this time last year and about 80% abnormally dry -- an indication that even though concerns are out there, things are much improved.
As for the winter months, Kansas is in a band of the country that faces a great deal of uncertainty over what the impact might be. That is because many factors besides El Nino can impact weather patterns and some of those are not well formed at this point.
A look at the statistics of the last strong El Nino shows that Kansas did have an abnormally wet winter and the Arkansas River flowed from the Colorado border to the Oklahoma border for one of the few times in decades.
For the area of northwest and northcentral Kansas facing drought, however, the news may not be as good. Most of the rain came across the southern half of the state and the northern half was drier and colder than normal.
What's really hard to define in Kansas weather is "normal." As one forecaster often quips there is really no normal in Kansas. What we define as normal is actually the average of the extremes that do occur and in reality, it never happens.