March 15, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

National attention recently has focused on the drought of 1999 continuing and worsening as the 2000 growing season goes into full swing. Tom Priddy, agricultural meteorologist for the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, is fully aware of drought predictions but has higher hopes for Kentucky this year.

The entire Commonwealth still is in a moderate drought. The rains a few weeks ago brought above average rainfall for this time of the year; almost enough to bring the state out of the long-term drought situation.

"On the agricultural side of this, the moisture for crops has been closer to normal than it's been in a year and a half," Priddy said. The concern is that La Nina is still out there in the equatorial pacific ocean and the latest guidance says it won't be closer to normal until around June. After that, conditions will return to "normal" in the pacific.

It's hard to know how much of a lag there is between the time La Nina goes away and when the jet streams are no longer displaced. When El Nino died out in May 1998, it took a month before to see effects of La Nina.

" What I've been telling producers is that La Nina tends to give us an enhanced severe weather season. We expect a higher frequency and higher intensity of the storms this spring," Priddy warned. "I have been saying we can expect areas of the Midwest, including Kentucky, to have above-normal precipitation. That's a very positive outlook."

Areas all around Kentucky, for the long term, are looking at below-normal precipitation. Priddy has been telling the state's farmers that it La Nina goes ahead and dies out, Kentucky should have near-normal moisture as we move through the growing season.

"We didn't have a good crop season last year, but the corn producing areas of the Midwest had bountiful rainfall and high yields," Priddy said. "This year, the tides have shifted and we're (Kentucky) in a little better situation now. The epicenter of that drought has shifted into the heart of the corn belt."

The way it looks right now, the Commonwealth may be in between two areas hard-hit by future drought conditions and escape the driest conditions itself.

Priddy predicted some excellent chances for good rainfall with some storms tracking through Kentucky in the near future. He said that might be what's keeping the state in the near-normal precipitation range for the long-term.

While the future may have some positive energy, it's still a good idea to think about water conservation year-round.

"We human beings tend to become apathetic about water," Priddy admitted. "When it's plentiful, we don't really worry about it. It's not until we get into the middle of a drought that people start getting serious about conserving. The drought has never really ended in Kentucky. At least people really are listening to us right now and hopefully they realize we have to continue to conserve."

Priddy is concerned about recent La Nina outlooks that indicate El Nino may be coming back. He said we really would not like to see El Nino again for two or three years. But that is a whole other story.


Tom Priddy 606-257-3000