The National Drought Mitigation Center has upgraded much of western Kentucky to “exceptional drought” status. Climatologist Brian Fuchs says exceptional drought, or D4, is the highest drought level. It’s characterized by widespread crop loss and water restrictions in some places.
Fuchs says D4 is a one-in-50-year event for a region.
“One thing that has been unique about this situation is just how rapidly it has developed. Droughts typically are characterized by a very slow onset into drought and a slow recovery out of drought,” said Fuchs.
West Kentucky reached the third highest drought level on June 5. It's taken just under two months to reach exceptional status. Fuchs says the recent intense heat has contributed to the rapid drying. He says right now 13 percent of Kentucky is in exceptional drought.
The drought mitigation center ranks in five levels, from D0 to D4. Fuchs says the categories build on each other.
“That means that the same problems that started to develop when conditions were just abnormally dry and in D0, more than likely they’ve maintained themselves to the point that with the intensification, you’re seeing all those same impacts as well as new ones," said Fuchs.
D4 is characterized by widespread crop loss and water restrictions in some places. The center measures drought data on Tuesdays. Fuchs says rainfall in the region this week could reduce drought levels in some communities, and stave off worsening in others.
“What we need to consider is did the river and stream levels actually go up and stay up a little bit, or did they go right back down? Did we see a good infiltration into the soils to moisten those up?" said Fuchs. "There’s many different indicators that we’re looking at. But in some instances it may have been just enough to hold off any further intensification or worsening, but in some instances where the heaviest amounts fell, it may have been enough to show improvement."
Fuchs says one rainstorm is unlikely to have a big impact. He says droughts typically have a long recovery time.