Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dealing with Drought

It is the start of our third year in drought and there is a great deal of question surrounding how much longer it will go. Drought is nothing new for our area, and we've certainly had some very dry periods looking back through the record books.

State climatologist Mary Knapp shared with me one of the most significant droughts that Kansas dealt with was back in the 50s, and it finally ended in 1956. Some areas had a cumulative deficit of 60 inches. Can you image what that would've been like? Here are the rainfall deficits for 2 years, and although the numbers are quite amazing, we still have a long way to go before we would threaten those levels.

One thing that I hadn't thought about that Knapp pointed out a couple of different times when we talked, was the demand on our water supply. We just expect the water to be there, and when we go through dry periods (like the one we are in now) and the water levels drop, we need to be using good judgement on our water usage.

Today, look how many residential lawns have irrigation systems and the demand placed on the water supply from industrial use. So much has changed since we dealt with widespread drought back in the 1950s and 1930s. Conservation of water will be extremely important moving forward into the spring and summer months. I can't imagine another 6 months going by without some kind of water restriction placed on much of the state. Although unlikely to last another 6-8 years, imagine another 2-4 years with the drought and how much of Kansas will change. Water levels are already very low, and if we don't get smart with our consumption, we will likely pay a hefty price.

Looking ahead to spring, our pattern looks like it is on a 40-50 day active cycle. So when the active part of the pattern is repeating, it's likely that we will have several rounds of severe storms (to what magnitude, I'm not sure). But that could be a price we will have to pay to get rain. I think April will be a very active month around Kansas. The last few storm seasons have been especially active in April, with some of the bigger storms occurring east of Kansas in May and June. The science of meteorology doesn't allow us to accurately forecast a number of tornadoes, so only time will dictate that answer. But let's hope for some big rains between now and early summer. We are heading into our wettest time of the year. The three months of April, May, and June are usually more generous than the other months of the year with rain... now it just needs to happen.

Thanks to Brenda Casanova for sending me pictures of the Marion Reservoir. It's estimated the water levels are down 5 to 6 feet, which may not sound like much, but you can see from the pictures, we need rain!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Preparing for storm season

Getting ready for storm season involves more than just double checking our in house equipment and making sure our staff is ready to go. One very important part in saving lives during tornado season is communication. As broadcasters, we have to communicate with our staff in the newsroom, communicate with meteorologists at the National Weather Service, emergency management, and finally, with you. It is a very tedious process, but one that we are always working to improve.

It's called the Integrated Warning Team and it is made up of members of the media (radio, TV, etc), National Weather Service offices from Wichita, Dodge City, Goodland, Hastings, and Topeka, and emergency managers from across the state. We have one primary goal and that is improving our flow of information when life threatening weather is nearby.

Did you know that when the outdoor warning device (tornado siren) goes off, it could be for something other than a tornado? I grew up in a small town (Geneseo, KS), and when the sirens went off, it either meant a tornado warning had been issued, or local firemen were being summoned. If the sounding siren went up and down, it was strictly for fire. But a continuous sounding of the siren meant tornado warning. But some counties are different. For example, Butler county will sound the outdoor warning devices if there is confirmed 80 mph winds moving in. But up until a few years ago, members of the media were unaware of that policy. Just as basketball and football teams are successful when they work together, warning the public of severe weather is only successful if we work together. During a tornado outbreak (which was the case on April 14, 2012), we rely on our trained storm chasers to tell us how the storm is behaving in the field. We usually have a good idea by studying the radar, but actual eyes under the storm is critical in the warning process. Our communication with the National Weather Service is extremely important because all thunderstorm and tornado warnings come directly from their office. And finally, emergency managers are extremely important because they relay storm and damage information from their spotters.

Forecasting severe weather is getting better and better, but it must go hand in hand with our communication with key players in the warning process. So when you see us cover storms this spring and summer, you'll know a little bit more about the people we are in constant contact with, even if we don't mention them on the air. It's a really fascinating process, and when it's successful, lives are saved.

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