Joe’s Blog: Is A Drought Just Around The Corner?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

May is usually very active in our area, with not only severe weather but rain in general. This May has been to exception to the rule. Severe weather has been largely absent and with the lack of those storms rain has been hard to come by in May as well.

Fayetteville has only received 0.38″ of rain so far this month. That is 3.51 inches below average for the month. This is a big flip from May of 2011 when over 11 inches of rain fell in Fayetteville. This month has continued the trend of lower rainfall in Northwest Arkansas. This graph from the National Weather Service in Tulsa shows the rainfall for the year continues to lag below the average. For Fort Smith May has brought slightly more rain. 0.58″ of rain has fallen so far this month, but that is still 3.02 inches below the monthly average. Like Fayetteville, this May is the polar opposite from May of 2011. Nearly 12 inches of rain fell in Fort Smith last May making it the 4th wettest May on record. With only 0.58″ of rain this May we are on pace for the 2nd driest May on record. Even with the dry May, the yearly rainfall in Fort Smith is still running slightly above average. 

Another way to look at this is by looking at rain charts for the last 180 days. This map (courtesy of the NWS) shows a gradient in the rain from north to south with the heaviest rain falling south of I-40.

The chart below shows the departure from normal for the area with a good chunk of Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma running more than 4-5″ below normal during the 180 day period. 

So the question now, with the dry May and a good stretch of hot/dry weather in front of us, are we in for a drought? We could be if this trend continues in mid June. The latest drought monitor has us in drought-free conditions with a drought starting to build to our west.

Next question is where does this compare to last year? Here is a comparison for this May to May of 2011 as far as the drought is concerned. May of 2011 in on the left and May 2012 on the right.

It’s really not fair to compare the drought and dry conditions from 2011 to this year. There are different weather patterns in play and 2011 started with a drought and it took almost 12 inches of rain in May to give us temporary relief from the drought…but it came back with a vengeance in June, July and August of 2011. 

The official drought forecast calls for the drought to continue to the west; however, if we continue the trend of hot and dry weather I would be surprised to see us in at least low-end drought conditions sometime in June. We typically get in MCS (largely overnight storm complexes) in early June and that provides a good amount of rain. If we don’t see much of that activity then we could really be hurting by mid June.

For what it’s worth, the 3 month precipitation and temperature outlook from the Climate Prediction Center shows above average temps for June, July and August with basically an equal chance for average rain. As always, take the long-range forecasts with a grain of salt.