Weather expert: More rain is needed

Thursday, August 17, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:43 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Much of Missouri will need one or two months of higher than average rainfall to escape from drought, a top scientist said Wednesday — and forecasters aren’t expecting that much rain anytime soon.

State climatologist Pat Guinan presented his conclusions at a meeting of the Drought Assessment Committee, which Gov. Matt Blunt reactivated earlier this month. The committee consists of representatives from 14 state and federal agencies, which coordinate efforts to mitigate the effects of a drought.

Committee members noted with dismay that even an average year of rainfall won’t solve all the drought problems and said that some of the drought’s impact can be alleviated by rain more quickly than other problems.

The committee heard reports about withering crops, underfed cattle and high hay prices, hampered river navigation, fire risks and restrictions on water usage by homes and businesses in parts of the state.

“All across the state we’re seeing high demand,” said Deana Cash, who monitors public drinking water for the Department of Natural Resources. Cash said that while many jurisdictions are asking people to use less water, more mandatory policies may become necessary.

State Fire Marshal Randy Cole said his agency pushed for legislation this year that would have allowed the state to enforce burn bans when necessary, in hopes that would make people comply better than when it’s simply a local order. The measure failed, but he pledged to try again next year.

“With the dry conditions as they are now, we’re going to see some major issues,” he said.

The panel also approved an update on the drought level faced by Missouri counties. The state has a four-tier system of worsening drought conditions, and the drought condition map approved Wednesday places 37 counties in the third stage, drought conservation. That’s an increase from late July, when 21 counties were at that level. Forty-four counties are now at the second stage, or drought alert, level, while 23 are at the drought advisory stage.

The most severe drought conditions have spread from the western part of the state into southwest and central regions. All but 10 counties in southeast Missouri are experiencing some level of drought.

If counties reach the fourth stage — a drought emergency — the state can order water rationing, and state agencies will review how communities are responding to the water shortage and take emergency actions if needed.

Western Missouri needs as much as 13 inches of rain to return to normal levels, the National Weather Service said. But the weather service is predicting above-normal temperatures and below-normal rainfall in Missouri in the coming month.

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