Drought or intense dry spell? Take your pick

Published: Sep. 20, 2019 at 10:18 PM EDT
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The basically rainless month of September saw a few “surprise” showers fall on Friday morning. The quick-forming, fast-fading showers fell for less than a half hour and oddly mainly along I-64 from Barboursville to Charleston. Where it did rain hard for 15 minutes about a quarter of an inch of rain fell, though most areas in the stretch from the Barboursville Mall to Teays Valley to Dunbar-Charleston had less than .1 (one tenth of an inch).

With Huntington city and the Kenova airport missing the pre-dawn flare up, it is now a rainless month in Huntington through 20 days. Even in Charleston the decent showers that affected the region from Hurricane City Park to Wine Cellar Park in Dunbar and the Indian Mound in South Charleston faded into dry spell oblivion as they passed West Virginia’s Capital City.

Looking ahead after a hot and dry weekend with highs near 90 for festivals, there is a decent risk of showers on Monday. Early odds favor less than .25” (a quarter of an inch) as the remnants of former Tropical Storm Imelda pass harmlessly. That’s not much more than the proverbial “drop in the bucket."

Given the pattern of hot and dry weather likely to last into and even intensify into October, the prospects for the current intense dry spell to turn into a full-fledged drought will need to be monitored.

In assessing drought versus intense dry spell, keep in mind farmers are harvesting their crops now and rain can only slow that process. Still some ground dampening showers can settle the dust. So this is not an agricultural drought.

In a chat with Shawn Wickline of the US Geological Survey out of Richmond, Virginia, it was apparent that the key measure to look for to designate drought is stream flow rates. Shawn told me by phone that next week’s data will assess the 7Q10 before designating a drought. This is a fancy way of saying the metric used to monitor stream flow focuses on the lowest 7 day average flow that occurs once every 10 years.

I can tell you watching the Guyandotte and Mud rivers in Cabell County, the flows right now are not at the lowest 7-day average for the past decade YET. But with sand bars showing up on both rivers, and with the specter of little rain and another heat wave into early October a “stream flow” drought may be a few weeks away.

One final note coming off a very wet 2018 and a wet start to 2019, the water table deep down is holding its own.

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