A snowstorm hammering the plains region is delivering up to 15 inches of snow in some states, but meteorologists say it is not enough to ease harmful drought conditions that have plagued the area for the past two years.
Kansas is being hit the hardest by a fast-moving snowstorm that has already dumped up to 14 inches of snow in the central and northeast sections of the state since Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Heavy snow is also impacting Colorado eastward though Nebraska and central Missouri. Further south, a combination of freezing rain and sleet is causing treacherous conditions across central Oklahoma and southern Kansas.
Winter storm warnings and advisories were announced throughout the central and southern Plains, with government office and school closings reported in Missouri and Kansas. The Kansas City International Airport is also temporarily shut down and almost 200 flights have been canceled.
Cancellations were also reported at Denver International Airport, mostly for flights into Midwest destinations in Kansas and Nebraska, and 90 fights were canceled at Lambert Airport in St. Louis. Legislatures in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Iowa all shut down Thursday.
The storm is expected to move eastward late Thursday night and into Friday morning across the Great Lakes region, where snowfall between 3 to 7 inches is expected, the result of weakening gusts as it travels into the Ohio Valley.
Despite hazardous road travel and standstill conditions, farmers and ranchers in scorched plains states are welcoming the storm, saying it will help mitigate an extended dry season that has plagued the region.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported Thursday that over half the US (56 percent) is experiencing drought; hardest hit is the high plains region – Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado – where 82 percent of the area is suffering from severe drought conditions. The US Drought Monitor reported this week that 100 percent of Kansas is engulfed in severe drought or worse.
Kansas wheat farmer Scott Van Allen, who has about 2,300 acres planted to winter wheat in south-central Kansas, told Reuters Thursday he feels “a lot better this morning.”
“It snowed all night on us,” he said. “I was getting very concerned with the lack of moisture we've had.”
However, experts say the snowstorm is not enough to reverse drought conditions and that a foot of snow on the ground only translates to about an inch of water for the soil. They say several more storms of the current magnitude – an accumulation of about 10 feet of snow – are needed this winter to make a significant dent.
“It looks like an active storm pattern for the next week, but it won’t extend into the spring and upcoming summer months,” says Jim Keeney, a meteorologist for the central region office of the National Weather Service in Kansas City, Mo. “Although the precipitation is much welcome, it’s not going to do much to ease drought conditions across the Midwest. The ground is frozen and when this does melt off, it won’t soak into the ground and help subsoil and water table levels.”