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Dry becomes drier in NWKS

6/3/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Ellis County remains in an extreme drought. But if rainfall records since Jan. 1 are any indication, perhaps it should be reclassified as an exceptional drought.

With just 2.98 inches of precipitation so far this year, 2014 is the fourth driest on record, according to rainfall reports from the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center south of Hays.

Only the first five months of 1966, with 1.8 inches of precipitation, 1904 with 1.93 inches and 1963, with 2.96 inches, were drier.

Even the first five months of 1956, the driest year on record in Hays, recorded more moisture. A lot more, relatively speaking, with 4.1 inches recorded in the first five months of that year.

With just 0.82 of an inch of rainfall in May, the precipitation total now is 2.98 inches -- 4.83 inches less than normal in the 144 years of record keeping at the station.

For the 30-year normal, Hays now is 5.43 inches below normal.

Station chief Bob Gillen sees it everyday.

"It's extremely bad," he said.

The lack of growth in pastures has put the squeeze on livestock producers, with no place to take their cattle, Gillen said, and has halted an expansion of the nation's cattle herd.

Dryland farmers preparing to plant fall crops face a dilemma of planting now with little or no soil moisture, he said, and hoping more rain will fall to bring the crop to harvest.

Already, wheat fields are suffering, even at the research center.

"We'll cut some wheat, but it will be quite poor," he said. "There's a lot of wheat in western Kansas that has been zeroed out for insurance purposes, and a lot more will be."

The "island" of extreme drought Ellis and Russell counties first created has expanded, Gillen said, but the two counties remain in its grip.

The continued dry weather also has brought out the specter of gallows humor -- humor in the face of the devastating drought.

"It's going to be very dry until it isn't anymore," Gillen said. "That's the country we live in."

Precipitation wasn't the only oddity of the month, at least for Hays, where temperatures ranged from a high of 104 on May 19 -- a new record -- to a low of 30 degrees May 2. Hays also set a new record of 98 degrees May 7.

As a result, the maximum temperature in Hays was much warmer than normal, by an average of 5 degrees. The minimum, however, was slightly cooler.

For the month, Hays was 1.9 degrees cooler than the normal average of 63 degrees.

It's been a mixed bag for other parts of northwest Kansas.

Rainfall Sunday night brought more than 3 inches to the Lebanon area in Smith County, and nearly 2.5 inches in nearby Smith Center.

Hays, however, only received 0.4 of an inch, but elsewhere in Ellis County the totals were much smaller.

But those rains will go into the June record books.

May rainfall totals varied markedly elsewhere in northwest Kansas, according to the National Weather Service:

* Colby -- 2.62 inches.

* Hill City -- 0.91 of an inch.

* Ness City -- 0.18 of an inch.

* WaKeeney -- 0.47 of an inch.

* Goodland -- 1.75 inches.

* Phillipsburg -- 0.67 of an inch.

* Plainville -- 0.6 of an inch.

* Smith Center -- 2.7 inches.

* Russell -- 2.15 inches.