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Summer forecast doesn’t hold water

by: Eric Weslander    20 April 2006

A dire weather forecast issued Monday calls for a hot, dry summer across the Plains reminiscent of the 1930s — the era of the devastating Dust Bowl drought.

The Pennsylvania-based forecasting service predicts a high-pressure system will be parked across the central United States much of the summer. The system would lead to scorching-hot days and prevent moisture from coming into the region — something that in turn causes even higher temperatures.

"It's kind of a vicious cycle," said Ken Reeves, the company's director of forecasting operations. "Drought begets heat begets more drought."

The forecast said it was possible that temperatures in some states would challenge the seemingly untouchable heat records set during the 1930s. But Mary Knapp, Kansas' state climatologist, is skeptical.

"I would say it's kind of jumping the gun to say it's going to rival the '30s," she said.

Just how hot were the 1930s in Kansas?

The all-time record temperature for the state is 121 degrees, which was recorded on two separate days in July 1936 in Fredonia and Alton.

Lawrence's record high temperature is 114 degrees, which occurred once in August 1934 and again in August 1936.

Overall, Knapp said, the temperature prediction for this summer in Kansas — with temperatures about 3 degrees higher than average — doesn't amount to a dramatic increase.

Kansas' average high temperature for the month of July the last 35 years has been 90.6 degrees, she said. But in July 1936, the average high temperature was 103.2 degrees.

"If you're 3 degrees warmer than normal for your average high temperature, yeah, it's going to be hot," Knapp said. "But when you look at your record … there's not anything showing that it's going to be a repeat of '36 or '34."

Still, this winter was the fourth driest in state history. In recent weeks, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office has been issuing drought watches or warnings for counties throughout Kansas.

Bill Wood, Douglas County's agriculture agent for K-State Research and Extension, said the lack of moisture in the soil was causing local farmers to brace themselves for the possibility of poor crop yields.

"Right now, it's looking kind of scary," he said.

The forecast comes as a research group headquartered at Kansas University is preparing to launch a $9.25 million project aimed at predicting large-scale environmental changes such as the Dust Bowl. The grant, announced Monday, will link researchers at KU, Kansas State University and Fort Hays State University in a study of environmental changes along the Kansas River basin.