It seemed like it hadn’t rained in ages and it seemed like it was never going to rain again ever at some points. One-hundred-degree days were dominating. The soil was unbelievably dry and the crops were withering away. No, this isn’t a description of one of the Dust Bowl years – this is a description of the summer of 2012.
“That was some of the driest weather I have ever seen,” said local farmer Ken Spivey. “I’ve been farming up here for over 50 years and I can’t remember many years much drier than last.”
Spivey was correct. According to the National Weather Service office in Topeka, 2012 was rated as one of the driest years, historically, ranking up there with drought years from the Dust Bowl era and the 1980s. Topeka only saw 23.06 inches of precipitation in 2012, which is almost 13.5 inches below normal.
“What most people don’t realize about 2012 is that we actually had a surplus of precipitation for a little bit,” said Bryan Busby, chief meteorologist at KMBC-TV in Kansas City. “In late March and early April, we were actually approximately two inches above normal for precip. But shortly after that, the faucets just turned off.”
Busby said the reason why the rain opportunities tapered off was because of a giant high pressure system in the upper atmosphere. These systems, also called ridges, are associated with periods of dry, warm weather, especially in the summer. That’s because the air associated with the system is sinking. As it sinks, it warms. In order to get rain, air needs to be lifted into the atmosphere.
“Whenever a storm would move into the area last year, that ridge would either force the storm to go to our north or to our south,” Busby said. “If a storm got under the ridge, it would just die out. With that ‘Death Ridge’ sitting on top of us, it squandered most rain chances while the temperatures got hotter and hotter.”
This year is off to a similar start to last year. Topeka has seen 7.91 inches of precipitation this year, compared to last year’s 7.96 inches. Despite the similarities, this year is expected to be a better year for precipitation amounts. In fact, the U.S. Drought Monitor has classified the Topeka and Lawrence areas as only having a moderate drought, an upgrade in the past few weeks. Busby says the winter was especially helpful with this.
“We had practically no snow in 2012. I think it was roughly around three inches for the whole winter,” Busby said. “This year, we’ve had almost 30 inches of snow. That greatly helped the situation. And it looks like we’re moving into a pretty active pattern for rain and storm chances – especially this upcoming week.”
More rain and storm chances is exactly what Spivey wants to hear this time of year.
“Last year was a hard one for us farmers,” Spivey said. “I think we’ll do better this year. Crops are already looking healthier than last year. I hope I never have to go through another summer like that again.”