After a brief reprieve in the fall, Douglas County and eastern Kansas are again facing dry conditions, with much of the western part of the state in drought.
Douglas County saw normal moisture levels in November for the first time since the 2012 drought, the worst in the U.S. in more than 25 years. But the break didn't last long. By the end of the November, the U.S. Drought Monitor again listed Douglas County as abnormally dry.
By Jan. 28, every county in eastern Kansas had joined Douglas in abnormally dry conditions. And all of western Kansas is once again in drought, with some areas in the northwest and southwest listed in extreme drought.
"It is dry," said Bill Wood, director of the Douglas County Extension office. "If we'd been talking about it in November, I'd say soil levels were in good shape."
Although the county has seen snow over the winter, it was mostly light and fluffy, rather than heavy and wet, which would have added more moisture to the ground.
For area farmers, what "abnormally dry" means depends on what they planted and when. Wood has seen some farm acreage with dry top soil and cracks starting to form. That can be a problem for crops currently in the ground, as the cracks let in cold that can harm a plant's root system.
Wheat that went in during the early fall is more mature at this point and hardy enough to withstand the cold and dry weather for now.
Mark Wulfkuhle, who farms and raises livestock on land near Stull, planted his wheat in September and October. "About that time we had pretty good moisture," Wulfkuhle said. His wheat lies dormant now to ride out the winter, "but I'm not saying it won't have some problem later" if the dry conditions keep up, he said.
At the moment the biggest potential problems for Wulfkuhle are the water levels in the ponds and streams that his cattle drink from. For now he is cautiously watching water levels and waiting for precipitation. "When we go out to pasture and start grazing in the spring and summer, that's when it becomes an issue," he said.
Wood notes that 2013 also started out with a dry January, with effects of the 2012 drought carrying over. Wet weather in the spring delayed planting but helped restore moisture to the soil.
"Nature can help us out if it brings the rain and brings it at the right time," Wood said.