Making a Dent in the Drought

Ever since the end of May, the weather pattern in North Central Wisconsin has turned from that of dry and rather warm, to that of unsettled and seasonable.  Since the start of this month through June 10th, a little over 2" of rain has fallen in Wausau, while just over an inch and a half as added up in the rain bucket in Marshfield and Rhinelander.  Needless to say, these totals are likely to climb in the days ahead as more rain and thunderstorms are in the forecast.  Will this completely wipe away the deficit that we have built up locally since the start of the year?  For now I will put that in the maybe category, only because there is the potential for 1-2" amounts at a time depending on where heavier storms or localized downpours end up taking place.  Up through June 10th, Wausau was behind for 2010 by a little over 4.50", while Rhinelander was just over 4" under the normal amount.  As a point of reference, here is the latest drought monitor map for the state of Wisconsin.


As you can see Highway 29 is just the separation point from Abnormally Dry/Moderate Drought to the south to that of Severe to Extreme Drought up north. In reality, we didn't just start talking about drought conditions in the region this year, but have been for many years.  Recently, the National Weather Service Office in Green Bay did an analysis of not only the most recent drought, but those of other years stretching back to the early 1900s.  Let's focus first on the regime of dry weather that we have been experiencing since 2003.  The chart below is broken down by total precip from 2003-10, followed by what is normal during that span of time, along with our how much below average each location is, and lastly the percentage of precip. compared to normal.


                             2003-2010       NORMAL    DEFICIT      PERCENT
REST LAKE               178.44        237.86        -59.42             75
RICE RESERVOIR     184.06       239.98        -55.92              77
STRATFORD             179.36       233.67        -54.31              77
RHINELANDER          185.28       232.75        -47.47              80
WAUSAU                    204.24       243.81        -39.57              84
MINOCQUA DAM       197.24       234.29        -37.05              84
ANTIGO                      188.02       223.32        -35.30              84
MERRILL                    203.94       236.63        -32.69              86
MARSHFIELD             209.53       241.88        -32.35              87
WAUPACA                  219.68       246.71        -27.03              89
LAC VIEUX DESERT  222.30       247.08        -24.78              90
WISCONSIN RAPIDS  214.31      237.50         -23.19             90
EAGLE RIVER            196.92       216.16         -19.24             91
CLINTONVILLE           216.74      234.76         -18.02             92
SHAWANO                  213.54      230.78         -17.24             92
PHELPS                      207.86      225.08         -17.22             92
STEVENS POINT       228.47      235.45          -13.30            94

So locally in North Central Wisconsin the deficit ranges from nearly 60" to just over 13" in the red.  Obviously, in order to make up this dearth of precipitation, there would have to be consecutive months, if not a couple of years well above average in precipitation to break the drought completely.  It has happened in the past, but certainly recent memory only shows that the lakes and rivers have been getting shallower and thinner, while the rainfall has been more sporadic than persistent.  I should also note that the summer months are climatologically the wettest time of the year with June the 2nd highest amount of precip. on average, followed by August which has the most in a month at 4.53" in Wausau.  Will Mother Nature give us more liquid sunshine in the coming weeks and months?  Only time will tell.  Safe to say, you will probably need the sunglasses more than the umbrella if history is any indicator.

For more in-depth details on the droughts of the past, check out these links from the NWS in Green Bay:

Droughts from the 1970s to Present
Droughts from the 1940s to 1960s
What is a Drought?
Droughts from the 1900s to 1930s

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