Kansas escapes flood conditions – for now

Mary Knapp looks at the numbers and feels a bit fortunate.

That’s because Kansas’ state climatologist knows that the main force protecting the Kansas River valley from torrential rains and widespread flooding is a persistent bubble of high pressure lingering in the southeastern United States.

Were that bubble to expand a little, or shift a few hundred miles to the west, then moisture from the Gulf of Mexico suddenly would find itself flowing up a chute through Texas and Arkansas – laying the foundation for storm after storm after storm, just like what already has riddled much of Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Knapp isn’t about to forecast whether that might happen closer to home.

“You never want to tempt Mother Nature like that,” said Knapp, from her office at Kansas State University in Manhattan. “It’s just too early to tell.”

Folks seeing reports of widespread flooding, overtopped levees, ineffectual sandbags and hundreds of displaced residents and businesses in states to the east don’t need to think back all that far to recall it happening in Kansas.

That came in 1993, when persistent, heavy rains in July left many counties enduring four times their normal loads of precipitation.

This year: Who knows?

“We’re on the knifeblade,” Knapp said. “If we get a normal July, we’re OK. Even if we get a slightly above-normal July, we’ll just be having a wet year.

“It would take a significantly wetter July : and we’re not anywhere close to getting five times our normal June precipitation.”

For the record, the state’s 14-county east-central region – which includes Douglas, Shawnee, Johnson and Franklin counties – has averaged 4.81 inches of rain so far this month, or 169 percent of the normal average of 2.83 inches.

Tom Morey, state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program, noted that this year’s storms had tended to concentrate rain in relatively specific areas, while the ’93 storms struck wide areas for days at a time.

But he warns against shrugging off the ’93 flooding as a once-in-a-lifetime event. Kansas’ neighboring states are grappling with the effects of weather patterns and resulting storms that just as easily could have hit points farther west.

And, conceivably, still could.

“We’re still at risk,” said Morey, who oversees programs that provide $1.6 billion in insurance coverage in Kansas. “If we have a major thunderstorm and enough water falls, we’ll see the impacts of flooding, I’m sure.”