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Drought is only a dry memory

Updated: 2013-06-29T04:37:25Z

By TREY WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

Remember last summer? Lawns sizzled to a burned-out brown. Crops withered in dry, crumbling dirt. Lakes evaporated away, beaching boats.

We were in a long, historic drought — and now it’s over.

At least for the Kansas City area, say Missouri and Kansas state climatologists. Western Kansas remains in an exceptional drought, but conditions steadily improve as you move closer to our area.

A snowy winter, a deluge of rain in recent months and even that strange May flurry all played a part in washing away the drought. Kansas City’s total precipitation for May and June so far is 9.58 inches, compared with last year’s 3.46 May and June total.

Lakes may be the most dramatic sign that 2013 is a much different year.

In 2012, Tuttle Creek Lake in northeast Kansas dropped 12.67 feet below its normal level. Brian McNolte, project manager of the lake for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that level was the second-lowest since 1962.

Wells around the lake dried up. And vegetation couldn’t grow, forcing waterfowl to find somewhere else to stop as they made their way south.

McNolte said the lake has since made a full recovery, plus.

“It’s back up above normal,” he said. “It rose 27 feet from January to June. It’s recovered and then some.”

Levels at Lakewood Lake near Lee’s Summit were down about 10 feet last year. The lake was so low, said Lakewood resident Hugh Ryan, that his boat sat on a rock, unable to move.

“We were dry docked for a whole year,” Ryan said. But now, “We can finally call it Lakewood again.”

As for crops, much of Kansas is still struggling.

Less of the wheat harvest this year has been good or excellent compared with last year, said Jason Lamprecht, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Kansas state statistician. But he said crops planted recently look better than last year at this time.

Things are looking better in Missouri.

“Everything has rebounded pretty well,” said Bob Garino, Missouri’s state statistician for the USDA. “We’re in good shape; you could say we’ve recovered 100 percent from the drought in terms of moisture replenishment.”

Garino said last year’s drought had the biggest effect on livestock and corn. Farmers struggled to get livestock the feed and water they needed. And corn in the state produced its lowest yield since 1983, Garino said.

Missouri averages 150 bushels of corn per acre per year –– with a record of 162 bushels. Last year, farmers averaged only 75 bushels per acre.

“It was a very bad year,” Garino said.

But this year, “We had a wet spring, so the corn was planted in good conditions,” he said.

Still, the state isn’t quite out of the woods, Garino said: The crop outlook could always change depending on the climate and whether the rain continues to fall the rest of the season.

Trees, plants and lawns would benefit from a wet summer and fall as well, said Dennis Patton, Johnson County horticulture agent. Although this year’s onslaught of rain has been good, he would prefer steady, consistent rain over the recent bucket dumping.

Still, plant life has been recovering, and continued rain will help.

“If the plants have ample reserves and are in good condition,” he said, “and are able to go into the winter dormant, then the trees and plants will be on the road to recovery.”

Lawns should be fine, Patton said, because “they have a very shallow root system and a short recovery process.”

Trees and plants indigenous to the area also should recover fairly quickly –– they have been through this before. But Patton said newly planted and exotic landscape plants will need more time and care.

To reach Trey Williams, call 816.234.4073 or send email to twilliams@kcstar.com.

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