Area avoids rest of state's drought

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Local residents have had a wet year, but in other parts of Missouri there have been drought conditions.

Meteorologists are unsure exactly why in 2006 Southeast Missouri and portions of Southern Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana have all been drenched while western Missouri has been unusually dry.

"This has been one of the wetter years historically for our region. The trend seems to be geographically as you go west that wetness diminishes," said Rick Shanklin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky.

Paducah experienced the second-wettest year on record with 67.1 inches of precipitation. Cape Girardeau had the ninth-wettest recorded year with 54.14 inches. Poplar Bluff had 67.56 inches, making it the city's fourth-wettest year.

But topping all others in the area was Evansville, Ind., about 120 miles northeast of Cape Girardeau, which was 21.91 inches above average with 66.18 inches of precipitation. This was the wettest year on record for Evansville dating back to 1897.

At the other end of the scale, the southwest portion of the state endured what meteorologists call the fifth straight subpar rain season. Springfield had 6.10 inches less rain than normal, and Joplin had 13.64 inches less.

"We do have climatic cycles and wetter and warmer periods periodically. The concern would come in if it continues like this for a sustained period," Shanklin said.

Ted Keller, a meteorologist for KOLR/KSFX television station in Springfield, said it is not uncommon for the southeastern part of the state to get more moisture than the southwest, but the growing disparity is troubling.

"It's a big question. There is a general drought in the central plains for a while now. We've been underwatered for about five years, and it seems to be a longer-scale pattern," he said.

Keller said the drought could have been worse for local farmers.

"For growing interests, the spring rains count. We had good spring rains in April and May, and that saved us. That's what enabled us to get even within five inches of an average year," he said.

"It's tempting to chalk it up to the so-called global warming, I only say so-called because we don't know if that's what's at work here. When you look at Springfield, we've been a little dry, then there's the Oklahoma wildfires earlier in the year. There's a larger-scale pattern shift, and it's a little elusive to determine exactly why."

Shanklin was equally puzzled but more optimistic.

"As far as specific reasons, it's hard to put our hands on things," he said. "It's always possible some new trend is revealing itself, but past experience says it will probably even itself out."

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