August 7, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Just a few months ago, Kentuckians were experiencing the seventh wettest spring in 108 years, now the situation has completely reversed, sending parts of the state into moderate drought.

University of Kentucky Agricultural Meteorologist Tom Priddy said the Commonwealth hasn't been this dry since the drought of 1998 and 1999 when sections of the state were in extreme hydrological drought and La Niña was impacting global weather patterns.

"We are not alone in our dry times," he said. "Currently almost 50 percent of the United States is suffering from hydrological, or 'drinking water' drought."

When August 2002 began, Central and Bluegrass regions of Kentucky were experiencing mild hydrologic drought and the West and East regions were in the beginning stages of hydrological drought. At that time, the Crop Moisture Index indicated that topsoil moisture was short statewide with parts of the Bluegrass and West experiencing "abnormally dry, with prospects of deteriorating." By August 5, the Bluegrass region had slipped into the moderate hydrological drought category.

Priddy said temperatures on the other hand have been the warmest since 1999. July 2002 ranks as the 17th warmest July in the past 108 years. The number of days with high temperatures of 90 degrees or warmer ranged from 23 days in Paducah to 15 in Lexington, which is seven to 10 days above normal.

"Both Princeton and Paducah had high temperatures of 100 degrees," he said. "The heat index has exceeded 110 degrees in the state. We've seen the livestock safety index in the
'danger' category every day this summer, with some days in the 'emergency' category."

As it stands, the Bluegrass and Central regions of the state need more than four inches of rainfall to escape drought status. Priddy said rainfall in July 2002 totaled 4.02 inches statewide, which is three-quarters of an inch below normal.

"Since April though, the state as a whole is more than an inch above normal rainfall," he said. "That reflects our wet spring."

Priddy said in the past a tropical storm has helped bring needed rainfall in times of drought. But this year conditions in the Atlantic have been very calm and not many tropical storms have formed, with the exception of "Bertha."

"Bertha moved inland recently over Louisiana and dumped five to 10 inches of rain on some Mid-Atlantic states, but not Kentucky," he said. ". It's also important to remember that the peak period for tropical storms is the first week of September. So, some relief from tropical moisture is not out of the question."

Is there some relief in sight with the normal weather pattern? To get back to normal, all regions of Kentucky need to experience above normal rainfall - West 1.75 inches, Central 3.35 inches, Bluegrass 4.31 inches and East 1.31 inches. The Crop Moisture Index indicates that topsoil moisture is short for agricultural purposes in the Eastern part of the state, abnormally dry in the Central and Bluegrass areas and too dry with yield prospects reduced in the West.

Priddy said that the medium-range outlook through the middle of August is calling for above normal temperatures and near normal rainfall.
"Unfortunately, near-normal rainfall will not end a drought," he said. "Until the weather pattern changes for Kentucky, or unless a tropical storm manages to provide some rainfall to the Ohio Valley, drought conditions could get worse."
Priddy also added that in late July the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the return of El Niño, which could impact the Commonwealth by fall.

For the latest information concerning the drought, Kentucky's agricultural weather and El Niño, visit the UK College of Agriculture's weather center on the World Wide Web:


Tom Priddy  859-257-3000