Not even the Dust Bowl was this dry.
It’s now official: Wichita has never had a drier start to a year. Through May 8, only 2.01 inches of precipitation had been recorded in 2014.
That toppled the previous mark for driest start, which was 2.37 inches in 1936, which came during the heart of the Dust Bowl era.
Wichita has received less than 25 percent of its typical rainfall to date, according to the National Weather Service. Through the first week of May, Wichita should have received 8.36 inches of rain, but the city hasn’t gotten anything close to that.
There’s some good news – and potentially bad news – coming Sunday, however.
Forecasters say there’s a healthy chance of significant rainfall coming to a large swath of Kansas, including Wichita. The Hydrological Prediction Center indicates an inch or two of rain over a widespread area.
“It seems to be our best shot for precipitation we’ve seen for a while,” said Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the weather service.
The front carrying the storms will be moving slowly, he said, which explains why rainfall totals will be higher than folks have seen for quite a while. Weather officials are hoping for periodic waves of rain so the thirsty soil has some time to absorb what falls before the next rainy spell arrives.
With much of southern Kansas in severe drought, there’s plenty of absorption capacity in the soil. But if the rain comes too hard and too fast, Smith said, there will be runoff instead of absorption.
The potentially bad news with Sunday’s rain chances is that severe weather – large hail, damaging winds and even isolated tornadoes – could very well come with it.
“It doesn’t look like a huge tornado outbreak right now,” said Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of AccuWeather.
Storms that develop in central and northern Kansas will likely form a line of showers as they move across the state, he said. Any tornadoes that form will be wrapped in rain and hard to see.
In Oklahoma and southern Kansas, however, storms that form will be more isolated and have the potential to become supercell thunderstorms.
“There’s a ton of instability” in the atmosphere, Mottice said. “There will be some very large hail with these storms.”
There could also be some flash flooding in spots, he said.
Mother’s Day picnics should be spared the rainy weather, forecasters say. In classic spring fashion in Tornado Alley, the first storms should fire up at about 4 p.m., with any tornadoes touching down between 6 and 9 p.m.