2022 was a historically dry year, comparable to 2012
Brian Beside Lexington Clipper-Herald
LEXINGTON – 2012 will be remembered across the region as one of the worst drought months on record; a decade later, 2022 recorded a rainfall deficit comparable to that historic year.
Across the National Weather Service service area – Hastings 30 County, 2022 was a particularly dry year, with most locations falling between 5 and 12 inches below the 30 year normal.
In many places, it was the overall driest year since at least 2012 or 2002, with the driest conditions being concentrated in the northern and western portions of NWS Hastings Nebraska counties, including Dawson and Gosper.
Some places had to dig further in the record books to find a drier year. For example, Hastings has had its driest year in 56 years since 1966.
“For many official long-term NWS stations, 2022 ranked between the top 10 and top 15 of the driest years on record,” explained NWS Hastings.
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One site eight miles south of Elwood was the second driest in the entire Hastings NWS area, recording just 12.61 inches year-round, a 10.67 inch deviation from the average.
Locations in western and central Dawson County only saw between 10 and 15 inches of rainfall. A site in Gothenburg recorded 15.50 inches, a deviation of 8.63 inches from the average.
For reference, normal annual rainfall in the NWS area of Hastings is generally between 23 and 30 inches, lower in the west and higher in the east.
The readings at the Tri-Cities airports were as follows:
- Grand Island: 15.20 inches, 11.41 inches below normal
- Hastings: 16.09 inches, 10.31 inches below normal
- Kearney: 17.62 inches, 7.94 inches short of normal
Weather regimes, but still well below normal, were found in much of north-central Kansas and southeast Nebraska counties.
Due to the rainfall deficit, the entire NWS area of Hastings found itself in a gradually worsening drought situation throughout the year.
According to the US Drought Monitor, 2022 began with most of our service area no worse than the unusually dry D0. However, by the end of the year, the vast majority of our area had degraded to a mix of moderate, D1, severe, D2 and extreme, D3 drought, with the majority of the worst-hit D3s concentrated north of Interstate 80 in Nebraska.
The drought conditions have helped set the stage for several wildfires that have erupted across the state over the past year.
On April 7, wildfire would burn 35,000 acres in Gosper and Furnas counties. Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull was killed in a collision between his vehicle and a water truck on US Highway 283 about 8 miles north of Arapahoe while responding to the fire.
Just 15 days later, on April 22, another wildfire broke out in southwestern Nebraska, burning down 40,000 acres in Furnas, Red Willow, Frontier County after starting in Norton, Kansas. A retired Cambridge fire chief was killed as a result of the fire.
Looking back, the previous year 2021 was also remarkably dry most of the time, but the final totals for the year were somewhat skewed by a record-breaking to record-wet March for some areas.
However, 2022 did not have particularly wet months, with most locations averaging somewhere between slightly drier than normal and far drier than normal. The driest months overall were January, February, August, October and November.
Of these months, February and August were notable even among the others.
“In February, the vast majority of locations measured less than 0.10 inches, matching the driest February on record in locations like Grand Island and Kearney, among many others. Partly due to the incredibly dry February, the entire 2021-22 “meteorological winter” season, Dec 2021-Feb. 2022, which was in the top five driest in many places, with an incredible lack of snow,” said NWS Hastings.
For reference, a location south of Lexington recorded no precipitation for all of February.
“In August, most of our service area received only between 0.20 and 1.50 inches of rain, which also puts many spots in the top five driest areas,” noted NWS Hastings.
Even in an extremely dry year, there were short periods of decent rainfall in limited areas. May was quite wet, with between 5 and 7 inches of rain falling in the southeast quarter of the service area. July saw between 3 and 6 inches in some spots and September was moderately wet with the southwest half of the area seeing between 2.50 and 4.50 inches.
Interestingly, a location six miles southeast of Lexington recorded the 10th-highest rainfall total in a 24-hour period, 2.98 inches on September 16.
The year ended with a somewhat wet December, particularly in the western half of the NWS area of Hastings, with most locations receiving between 0.70 and 1.15 inches of snow or mixed precipitation.
Now that the calendar has changed to 2023, what a difference a year makes.
January was a wet and snowy month, with most stations in the Hastings NWS area measuring between 2.5 and 5 cm of liquid precipitation, with local amounts being higher. It was a wettest January in the top 10 for many areas.
A location southwest of Lexington recorded 2.81 inches of rainfall, the second wettest NWS Hastings listed. Only Ord had more at 3.03 inches.
The official Tri City airport totals for January were:
- Grand Island: 1.49 inches, 244 percent of normal, on par with 2011 for the 5th wettest January
- Hastings: 1.19 inches, 216 percent of normal, tied with 2004 and 1941 for the 9th wettest January
- Kearney: 1.81 inches, 355 percent of normal, the second wettest January on record
For comparison, a normal January in the NWS area of Hastings is between 0.40 and 0.70 inches.
Despite a near-record-breaking wet January, it will take snowpack melting and much more precipitation this spring to reduce last year’s deficit.
The US Drought Monitor still lists Dawson County and eastern Gosper County as experiencing severe drought conditions, while western Gosper is suffering moderate drought conditions.
“Much of the High Plains remains in a holding pattern as areas that have had abundant snowfall in the water year are slow to improve due to the region’s long-term drought,” the US Drought Monitor said.