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Period of dry, warm weather has state in ‘early stages of drought,’ climatologist says

Wettest July/August on record followed by extremely dry September/October; group monitoring statewide conditions

After Kentucky’s wettest July and August on record, state climatologist Stuart Foster wasn’t expecting to be talking about drought conditions by early November. But dry and warm conditions in September and October have changed that conversation.

“The record wet July and early August was followed by a sudden switch to an extremely dry pattern from late August through October,” Dr. Foster said. “We are now in the early stages of drought across Kentucky due to lack of precipitation and the unusually warm temperatures.”

Statewide precipitation in September averaged 2.17 inches, according to data from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, and large portions of Kentucky received less than 1 inch of rain in October based on the Kentucky Mesonet at WKU, he said.

“Once official statistics are released for October, the two-month total precipitation may be the 10th driest such period on record since 1895,” Dr. Foster said.

That follows wettest July/August on record with an average of 13.47 inches statewide, he said, adding that Kentucky’s western climate division averaged 17 inches during those two months.

The effects of a dry September/October have been compounded by the unseasonably warm temperatures. According to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, the statewide average temperature in September was 72.6 degrees or 4.5 degrees above normal. Data for October isn’t official yet, but Dr. Foster said temperatures likely averaged between 5 and 6 degrees above normal.

“We expect the September and October period will go down as possibly the warmest on record statewide and certainly among the top five,” Dr. Foster said.

The state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet along with multiple collaborating partners from other state, federal and university agencies are working together to continuously monitor for the early development, spread and associated impacts of drought in Kentucky, according to Bill Caldwell, environmental scientist with the Kentucky Division of Water.

“This cooperative effort provides accurate and timely assessments that allow our citizens and our government agencies to anticipate and to better prepare to manage the negative impacts associated with drought,” Caldwell said.

As state climatologist and director of the Kentucky Climate Center at WKU, Dr. Foster is part of the committee monitoring the drought situation.

“We anticipate as we move into November that nearly the entire state will be designated as being in moderate drought,” he said.  “Most locations across the state have received an inch or less of precipitation in the past 30 days, and the outlook for significant rainfall appears to be below normal for the next 10-14 days unless the weather pattern changes.

“If the drought continues to develop and intensify, we could start to see impacts on agriculture and water supplies in some areas, but at the present time there are no major concerns beyond an elevated risk of wildfires and forest fires,” Dr. Foster said.

Contact: Stuart Foster, (270) 745-5983

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