Of all natural disasters, drought is the most common and the least understood.
It doesnt hit like a hurricane, earthquake or twister. You cant see it coming on satellite radar, experts note, which may be why many people disregard the effects.
Around Kansas City, drought creeps first claiming the Missouri crop grower, then the Kansas cattleman who cant afford grain to feed livestock. In time, grocery shoppers around the nation will wonder whats with the higher prices for produce and hamburger.
The ground, meantime, shifts in silence. Water mains burst. Homeowners agonize over fractured foundations.
Thousands of trees around the metro likely will die. If not this year, then next.
Physically, economically and sociologically, droughts do their damage the way a python squeezes the life out of its prey, in super-slow motion.
Much like a python, drought comes up slowly and can essentially suffocate a region, said Alex Prudhomme, who wrote The Ripple Effect, a book about the creeping distress that follows a dearth of rainfall.
It can set off a series of consequences, many of which were not aware of being associated with drought, Prudhomme said in an interview.
In Kansas City, the months of April through June marked the driest three-month period endured since 1911. The area received about six inches of rain in those months wed normally get a foot more.
Forecasts suggest little change in the coming week.
As of Friday, July had delivered just a tenth of an inch of moisture at Kansas City International Airport (where, incidentally, the scorched conditions require pilots to use more runway before taking off).
The regions dryness, in fact, began a year ago. And local economist Chris Kuehl foresees the effects mounting as 2012 drags into 2013.
Its not just our area. Forest fires burned in Colorado, alien sandbars emerged in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, nurseries declared bankruptcy around Atlanta, Ga.
This searing summer is not coming at an opportune moment, Kuehl wrote in a report issued last week by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce:
In some ways it is reminding analysts of the drought and heat wave that affected the nation in the mid-1930s, as that was a drought and heat wave that significantly worsened the impact of the Great Depression.
Many experts monitoring the dry conditions and their potential effects on the larger economy, including Kuehl, resist easy comparisons to the Dust Bowl years. Across the United States, triple-digit temperatures back then were more frequent, the drought was wider, the rural topsoil was grossly eroded and the national economy was in worse shape than now.
But with more than half of the country this summer suffering varying degrees of drought, some economic ripples are anticipated for seasons to come.
A droughts direct impact on the agricultural sector is well known: Lower crop yields and higher feed costs mean less money for farmers to spend in the winter. But less understood is how that stress finds its way to urban areas such as Kansas City.
Here, residents might regard drought as a mere headache that requires rolling out the garden hoses. Here, the overall water supply, mostly fed by the Missouri River, remains healthy, officials say.
But local businesses may feel the pinch when visitors from drought-plagued small towns cut back on travel and spending.