Drought relief expected in Douglas County

The U.S. Drought Monitor predicts a lessening of the drought for eastern Kansas during the upcoming months.

For the first time in a year, Douglas County may soon be drought-free, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The federal government’s latest forecast predicts a reduction of drought conditions in eastern Kansas during the next three months. The monitor already lists some parts of far eastern Kansas as out of the drought, and that line is slowly creeping westward toward Douglas County, which is listed as being in moderate drought.

The driving factor for the drought relief has been a cool, wet spring.

In April, Lawrence received 3.72 inches of rain, its highest monthly total in the past year. Since April 1, 5.67 inches of precipitation have fallen on Lawrence, .56-inch more than average. To put those numbers in perspective, Lawrence received only 7.52 inches of precipitation during the last six months of 2012.

National Weather Service meteorologist Shawn Byrne said the trend of average or above-average rainfall should continue for the next few weeks. He expects rain throughout next week, with the best chances coming Wednesday evening.

And for those tired of chilly temperatures, get ready to bust out the shorts.

“We are looking for a warming trend in the next week,” Byrne said. “Spring is finally here.” Saturday and Sunday’s highs will still be in the 60s, but Byrne expects highs for the rest of the week to be in the 70s to 80s.

This warming trend could be good news for local farmers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday that the winter wheat crop’s progress was behind last year’s pace. Cold weather has hindered crop growth, and the USDA expects Kansas winter wheat production to decline by 22 percent to 299 million bushels this year.

The corn crop also is far behind because of the wet weather. As of May 6, Kansas farmers had only 17 percent of their corn crop planted, a far cry from the 71 percent of corn that was planted at the same time last year. However, the USDA expects corn yields to be much higher than in the recent drought-plagued years.

Douglas County has been abnormally dry or in a state of drought 25 of the last 29 months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.