Metro Detroit drought monitor: How dry is it, and will it get worse?

You’ve probably seen it in your own neighborhood but, if not, you’ve certainly noticed it around town: lawns are turning brown.

And if you’re one who waters, get ready for a bigger than usual water bill. Yes, it’s been dry around here lately. And yes, we’ve had summer dry spells in the past. So, let’s put this into proper perspective and context and see how dry it really is.

There are many ways to look at our rain, or lack thereof. Take a look at the calendar below, and I’ve colored the days in which it rained in green (all statistics are from Metro Airport).

Drought graphics. (WDIV)

You see that we’ve had twelve days with rain this month, and eight of the twelve rain days occurred during the first half of the month. Since then, we’ve only had four days with rain. But wait…there’s more! You also see that I’ve circled the 6th, 7th and 8th.

That’s because we received 1.65 inches of total rain on those three days. Since that time, we have received only 0.48 inches – a span of twenty-two days. That, combined with the hot weather we’ve had, has really dried out the soil…not to mention the very dry air, which has exacerbated evaporation. Thursday, the relative humidity in parts of our area was only 25%!

Here’s another way to look at how dry it is:

Drought graphics. (WDIV)

We will finish June with 2.35 inches of total rain – most of which fell during the first half of the month. That’s well under our long-term average June rainfall of 3.26 inches. And take a look at last year (you remember what happened last year): we had over five inches of rain in June 2021. Remember those floods? What a difference a year makes.

Another method to assess our soil conditions is with the Drought Monitor, which is put out weekly by The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Drought graphics. (WDIV)

So far this spring and summer, southeast Michigan had not been highlighted, but that changed with this week’s bulletin, which now puts many areas north of I-69 in the Abnormally Dry category or, as I like to call it, “Pre-Drought.” Keep in mind that the Drought Monitor is calculated for each region based upon more than just rainfall statistics. There is a human judgment factor involved and, if conditions worsen, I’m pretty confident that we’ll see a rapid expansion of that area, and perhaps even Moderate Drought conditions, on the map in the next week or two.

So is there any relief in sight? Yes and no. As you may have heard, we have a chance for showers and thunderstorms this afternoon. Let’s hope we get some solid downpours because, after that, it’ll be sunny, hot and dry right through the holiday weekend. After that, a scattered shower or thunderstorm is possible Tuesday and Wednesday, but those chances are iffy.

If we don’t get any rain those two days, then we may not get any rain next week through next weekend, as it appears that a large area of high pressure will reestablish itself over the Great Lakes late in the week.

And longer term?

Drought graphics. (WDIV)

The Climate Prediction Center’s July outlook puts Michigan in the “Equal Chances” area. That means that there is no solid climate signal suggesting that we’ll trend above or below average for monthly rainfall. While that may not mean much to you, when I look at this map, I see above average rainfall in the southwest and southeast, with that below average area over a large part of the central U.S.

That suggests to me that, IF we were to trend in either direction, we’d more likely trend toward the below average area. But there’s one important caveat: you know as well as I do that all it takes is one large, heavy thunderstorm to skew the statistics. If such a storm hits Metro Airport one day in July and dumps two-and-a-half inches of rain, at the end of the month we’d likely have an above average rainfall statistic for that location whereas, without that one storm, it could otherwise end up well below average.

As much as we all love our warm summer days, at this point we need a solid all-day soaker that gives us an inch or two of rain. Not too much all at once…just a steady rain that is given time to soak into the ground and recharge our soil moisture. And remember that, while a lawn turning brown is an inconvenience for you, farmers have a much more vested interest in the rain than you and I.

Michigan is a major agricultural state, and the crops are not only important for our economy, but we all love to select fresh produce at our local grocery store and farmers’ markets. Where do you think all of that food comes from? If we transition into full-fledged drought conditions, that food may have to come from somewhere else.

Let the rain reign! But just for a day or two: I don’t want to keep moving my tee times.

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.