State panel declares drought officially over

Saturday, June 5, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Department of Natural Resources officials have officially declared an end to Missouri's nearly two-year-long drought, though some folks in the hardest-hit areas of the state aren't popping any corks in celebration.

The Missouri Drought Assessment Committee on Thursday declared the state drought-free because of heavy rainfall in the past few weeks over northwest Missouri, where 24 counties still were experiencing drought conditions when the panel last met in March.

Steve McIntosh, surface water chief for the DNR and chairman of the Missouri Climate and Weather Committee, said Friday that changing weather patterns have dropped above-normal rainfall on the neediest counties.

"By all drought indicators that we use ... we're drought-free now," McIntosh said.

He said those indicators include precipitation, soil moisture, stream flows and underground water levels. The Drought Assessment Committee also considers the weather's impact on agriculture and public water supplies.

The news is positive for farmers who have seen their ponds and pastures dry up, their wells run low and their crops parch in the heat since the drought began in August 2002.

But some parts of northwest Missouri are still feeling the drought's effects despite receiving above-normal rainfall in the past six months.

Jim Crawford, a University of Missouri extension agent in Rock Port, said rainfall for the year is about an inch above the 30-year average in Atchison County. But the county had 8 inches below normal precipitation last year, and 11 inches below normal the year before, so there's still some making up to do.

"It seems like we're just swimming in the stuff because we haven't had that much in the last couple of years," Crawford said. "But we're barely above the 30-year average.

"Define drought," he added. "If you get average rainfall, and you were already short, are you really out of it? As long as we continue to get rainfall, we're fine, but we don't have a lot of reserve. We used it up over the last couple of years."

He said crops are looking great, ponds are being refilled and groundwater is being replenished. But there still is a significant shortage of subsoil moisture in some areas.

"I would love to see a few more inches of rain before I get terribly excited about not being in a drought," Crawford said. "We have enough to get us through the next few weeks, but it needs to keep coming."

Douglas LeComte, a drought specialist with the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center, said Friday the outlook is for about an inch of rain each week for the next couple of weeks, along with above-normal temperatures.

There are no signs of any extended dry periods for the rest of the year, he said, though above-average precipitation is expected from September through December, especially in western Missouri.

State drought information: www.dnr.state.mo.us/geology/droughtupdat...

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