Month of intense rains has northeast Johnson County peeking out of drought status

Intense rains last Friday caused Tomahawk Creek in Leawood to spill out of its banks, trapping a motorist on Tomahawk Creek Parkway.

Remember those drought conditions that were persisting even through the snowy late winter we endured?

Several weeks of intense rain events have made them a thing of the past.

The National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office for Kansas City/Pleasant Hill, Mo., announced last week that it was discontinuing its weekly drought updates for the area.

“Very heavy and flood causing rains in the last few weeks have saturated soils and ultimately led to the demise of drought conditions in the Pleasant Hill forecast area,” read the final update. “As a result, this will be the closing statement for this drought, which started more than a year ago and peaked in July and August of 2012.”

Last week’s drought report showed northeast Johnson County among the 5 percent of Kansas that had emerged from drought status.

And while drought conditions ranging from moderate to severe continue to impact nearly 95 percent of the state of Kansas, northeast Johnson County is among the luck 5 percent that has officially emerged out of even “Abnormally Dry” status — though southern and western parts of the county remain under a drought advisory.

Of course, we appear to have swung rapidly from one set of strange weather conditions to another, with a month and a half of intense rain saturating soils and prompting the conditions that led to flash flooding in Leawood and south Kansas City last week.

Johnson County K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent Dennis Patton says that while all the rainfall is good news in terms of the drought, some of the “fast and heavy” rain events we’ve have don’t necessarily yield huge benefits for plants.

“The issue is with more how the rainfall occurs.  A slower, soaking rain does more good for the soil as the slower rainfall allows time for the rain to soak into the soil recharging the deeper soil reserves,” he said. “Rainfall like last Friday morning when, some including me got 5 inches in less than 2 hours — this is what leads to flash flooding and wet basements. These types of rain come so fast it pretty much runs off leading to the flooding issue.”

As a general rule, Patton said, the heavy clay soils most prevalent in Johnson County need several hours to let an inch of moisture soak deeply into the soil, where it has the most positive impact.

And, says Patton, we aren’t out of the woods yet in terms of possible stress caused by hot and dry conditions. After a year of drought, many plants and trees are in weakened states.

“If it turns hot and dry, the plants still have used many of their stored food reserves and have weakened root systems,” he said. “So it would be one more stress on top of the many that we already have.”