Interesting weather lesson from the Summer of 2013: There's more than one way to be dry.
For the second summer in a row, drought to near-drought is dragging down Nebraska and western Iowa.
And for the second July in a row, Omaha is struggling through a record to near-record lack of rain.
With only 0.44 of an inch of rain as of late Wednesday, the city was closing in on its second-driest July on record. The driest? Last July, when a scant 0.01 of an inch fell.
The difference this year is cooler-than-normal weather has taken much of the sting out of the drought.
Pastures and woodlands aren't burning, few communities are restricting water use and most plants aren't so hot that no amount of water can sustain them.
“The saving grace has been the temperatures,” said Brian Fuchs, climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, which is housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Based on the most recent figures available, over the first six months of the year, Nebraska was in the midst of its 38th-coolest year on record, while Iowa was in its 33rd-coolest. The first six months of last year were the hottest on record for the two states and for much of the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
This year's cooler weather has made it easier for rain to materialize, Fuchs said. Last summer it was so hot, the atmosphere effectively shut down, he said. The problem for Omaha is that it's in a general area of even more localized dryness.
Despite this year's cooler weather and more rain in parts of the Midwest, agriculture has still has had its problems across the region.
Dryland corn is largely failing for the second year in a row, and thousands of head of cattle died in July on a stifling, windless afternoon.
The good news is the forecast. The odds favor wetter and cooler-than-normal weather for at least the next two weeks, according to the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service.
Given the cool conditions, any rain that does fall “will do wonders” for crops not damaged beyond recovery by the dry summer, Fuchs said.
That rain would help suppress any increased chance of wildfires.
Casey McCoy, wildland fire training manager for the Nebraska Forest Service, said this year's big drop in fires could turn on a dime if late summer and fall are dry.
August is traditionally a time of high fire risk in western Nebraska, he said. Eastern Nebraska sees its risk increase from late summer into early fall.
Abundant spring rains created lush vegetation in eastern Nebraska, and that could ripen into fuel for fires if rain doesn't materialize, he said.
Should the forecast hold and it rains, the likelihood of a late summer heat wave drops significantly, said Harry Hillaker, Iowa state climatologist.
“Especially if we get a really good widespread inch or two of rain, you can almost count out any big heat wave for the rest of summer,” Hillaker said.
“The catch is, we need to have more moisture.”