Heavy snows won’t solve drought, but every bit helps

Updated: 2013-02-28T19:49:41Z


The Kansas City Star

All this snow may seem miserable now, but we might be happier about it in a couple of months.

Even if the 20 to 25 inches of snow that fell on the metropolitan area wasn’t a drought-buster, it has definitely brought relief.

“It is absolutely wonderful,” said Dennis Patton, horticulture agent at Kansas State University Research and Extension in Olathe.

Now all we need are some spring rains to break this lingering drought — far from a sure thing. For now, though, the snow moves us closer to normal for a change.

“It doesn’t necessarily get us out of a drought,” Patton said. “But it certainly is doing a lot to help replenish that deeper subsoil moisture.”

It’s hard to tell just how much water was contained in the snows that fell. Last week’s snow was relatively dry compared with the wet blanket that fell beginning Monday night. Generally, 10 to 12 inches of snow provides an inch of moisture.

So depending on where you live, the melting snow will bring about 2 to 3 inches of liquid relief. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s far better than a 2-inch thunderstorm, said Mark Svoboda, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.

Although much of a thunderstorm’s rain would run off, the snow will melt slowly and its moisture will seep slowly into the ground, he said.

“We are saturating the top part of the sponge,” Svoboda said. “The bottom part is dry. I think this helps in the short-term.”

While the massive snows moved the drought in the right direction, Svoboda said, the ground down deep no longer has the reserves of water it did last summer into early fall. Before the snows last week, the area needed at least 8 to 12 inches of precipitation to return to normal.

“All in all, it’s been a very nice shot in the arm for our dry recovery efforts,” Svoboda said.

But a lot will depend on this wet winter leading into spring rains.

“Unless the (current) pattern continues, we will still be relying on rain-to-rain events even earlier this summer than last summer,” he said.

The National Weather Service drought map shows that the state of Kansas right up to the state line is in a persistent drought. Missouri is a notch better, suffering from what is termed an ongoing drought.

The outlook for March, April and May is a wetter-than-normal spring for the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley, and drier than normal for the Southwest and the Rockies, said Dan Hawblitzel, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill.

“We are right in the middle of those,” Hawblitzel said. “Right now it could go either way.”

The guessing game has farmers worried whether the winter wheat will survive to harvest.

Daryl Strouts, president of the Kansas Wheat Alliance, said in many places in Kansas the drought is going on three years, and some people believe it’s the worst drought they’ve ever seen.

“There is just no moisture left in the soil to speak of,” he said. “The wheat crop out there is living on whatever moisture it has got in the last three or four months. And the roots, there’s no moisture to go down to.”

Still the snows were a blessing.

“Any moisture is good moisture,” Strouts said.

The snows also have reassured some area gardeners.

Up until last week, it had been so dry that some were wondering if they would be able to plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day, when the potato season traditionally begins, Patton said.

Still, gardeners can be fickle — some now are complaining that the ground might be too wet to plant their gardens, Patton said.

To reach Karen Dillon, call 816-234-4430 or send email to

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