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State Climate Summaries

KANSAS

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KANSAS

Kansas lies in the central Great Plains, straddling the transition from relatively abundant precipitation (more than 42 inches annually) in the southeast, supporting forests and rain-fed agriculture, to semi-arid conditions (less than 20 inches annually) in the west. The state is far from the moderating effects of oceans and temperatures vary widely across seasons. The statewide average temperature is 31.3°F in the winter and 76.6°F in the summer.

 

Figure 1

Observed and Projected Temperature Change

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Observed and projected changes (compared to the 1901–1960 average) in near-surface air temperature for Kansas. Observed data are for 1900–2014. Projected changes for 2006–2100 are from global climate models for two possible futures: one in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase (higher emissions) and another in which greenhouse gas emissions increase at a slower rate (lower emissions). Temperatures in Kansas (orange line) have risen about 2°F since the beginning of the 20th century. Shading indicates the range of annual temperatures from the set of models. Observed temperatures are generally within the envelope of model simulations of the historical period (gray shading). Historically unprecedented warming is projected during the 21st century. Less warming is expected under a lower emissions future (the coldest years being about 2°F warmer than the long-term average; green shading) and more warming under a higher emissions future (the hottest years being about 11°F warmer than the hottest year in the historical record; red shading). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

The last decade has been one of the warmest on record for Kansas, surpassed only (slightly) by the extreme heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era (Figure 1) when extreme drought and poor land management likely exacerbated the hot summer temperatures. Many record high temperatures were set during the summer of 2012, which was the hottest year on record with an average temperature of 58.2°F. One notable trend is an increase in spring temperatures that has persisted over the last three decades (Figure 2a), which has implications for crop planting. Summer temperatures have been near to above average during the 2000s (Figure 2b). There is no long trend in very warm nights (days with minimum temperature above 75°F) and extremely hot days (days with maximum temperature above 100°F), although both have been slightly above average over the past five years (Figures 3a and 3b). The number of very cold nights (days with minimum temperature below 0°F) has been below average since 1990 (Figure 4). The freeze-free season has also lengthened, averaging 9 days longer in the 21st century than the 20th century average.

Figure 2

Figure 2a

 

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Figure 2b

 

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Figure 2: The observed spring and summer temperature for 1895–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. Over the past three decades, Kansas has experienced some of the highest springtime temperatures in the historical record (after the period of 1985–1989). Summer temperatures during the most recent 5-year period (2010–2014) have reached the highest level since the extreme heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl era. The dark horizontal line on each graph is the long-term average (1895–2014) of 53.3°F (spring) and 76.6°F (summer). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Figure 3

 

Figure 3a

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Figure 3b

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3d

Figure 3d-1

 

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Figure 3d-2

 

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Figure 3: The observed number of (a) very warm nights (days with minimum temperature above 75°F), (b) extremely hot days (days with maximum temperature above 100°F), (c) annual precipitation, and (d) spring and summer precipitation, averaged over 5-year periods The values in Figures 2a and 2b are averages from 29 long-term reporting stations. The values in Figures 2c and 2d are from NCEI's version 2 climate division dataset. The dark horizontal lines represent the long-term average. The frequency of very warm nights and extremely hot days peaked during the 1930s Dust Bowl era in Kansas. All precipitation metrics have been near to below average during the most recent 5-year period (2010–2014). Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

 

Observed Number of Very Cold Nights

Observed Number of Very Cold Nights

Figure 4: The observed number of very cold nights (annual number of days with minimum temperature below 0°F) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 29 long-term reporting stations. Since 1990, Kansas has experienced a below normal number of extremely cold days, indicative of overall winter warming in the region. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of 4.8 days per year. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

Precipitation is highly variable from year to year, with the statewide average ranging from a low of 15.34 inches in 1956 to a high of 40.58 inches in 1951. The driest multi-year periods on record occurred during the 1910s, 1930s, and 1950s, with the driest 5-year period being 1952–1956. The wettest periods were the 1940s and 1990s, with the wettest 5-year period on record being 1992–1996 (Figure 3c). The majority of precipitation falls during the warm season months, and on an annual basis, precipitation was generally above average from the mid-1980s through the late-2000s. (Figure 3d). The frequency of heavy rain events has been highly variable with a general increase; the number of 3-inch rain events has been near to above average during the last two decades (Figure 5). The increase in extreme rainfall events has been more pronounced in the eastern part of the state. Several major floods have occurred since the beginning of the 20th century. The Great Flood of 1951 extended over about half the state, with both rural and urban areas suffering severe losses, including $2.5 billion in total damages and 19 fatalities.

Severe thunderstorms are common in Kansas due to the state’s geography, which allows cold, dry air from the north to combine with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, triggering severe thunderstorms, some of which can produce tornadoes. On average, the state experiences more than 50 tornadoes each year, which occasionally cause major damage and loss of life. The Topeka tornado of June 8, 1966, one of the most destructive tornadoes in Kansas history, killed 17 people, injured more than 500, and caused over $200 million in damages (at the time, the highest in American history). Since 1950, Kansas has had six EF5 (Enhanced Fujita Scale) tornadoes, the third highest of any state. The most recent EF5 tornado occurred in May 2007, when nearly 95% of Greensburg was completely destroyed and 11 people were killed.

 

Observed Number of Precipitation Events

Observed Number of Precipitation Events

Figure 5: The observed number of days with extreme precipitation (annual number of days with precipitation greater than 3 inches) for 1900–2014, averaged over 5-year periods; these values are averages from 37 long-term reporting stations. In an average year, 40%–50% of stations will experience a day with 3 inches or more of precipitation. In the historical record, the largest number of heavy precipitation events occurred from 1995–1999, with an average of 0.69 events per year, followed by 2005–2009, with an average of 0.58 events annually. The dark horizontal line is the long-term average (1900–2014) of 0.44 days per year. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

The agricultural economy of Kansas makes the state particularly vulnerable to droughts (Figure 6). After abnormally dry conditions in 2011, a severe drought hit in 2012 (one of the top ten driest years for the state). The critical growth months of May, June, and July were the driest on record for the state, with only 4.91 inches of rain. By August, more than 95% of the state was in extreme drought status. The drought, combined with the extreme summer heat, had significant negative impacts on crop yields, livestock production, and pasture conditions. Despite the occurrence of this very severe drought, the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been generally characterized by few short-term and long-term severe droughts.

Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected by the end of the 21st century (Figure 1). Even under a pathway of lower greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures are projected to most likely exceed record levels by the middle of the 21st century. However, there is a large range of temperature increases under both pathways, and under the lower pathway, a few projections are only slightly warmer than historical records. Heat waves are projected to increase in intensity, posing a risk to both livestock and human health, while cold wave intensity is projected to decrease. The freeze-free season is projected to lengthen.

Although projections of overall annual precipitation are uncertain, summer precipitation is projected to decrease across the state (Figure 7), while winter precipitation is projected to increase. Winter precipitation increases could potentially benefit winter wheat production, but summer drying would have negative impacts on rain-fed summer crops and rangeland.

The intensity of future droughts is projected to increase. Droughts are a natural part of the climate system. Although projections of overall precipitation are uncertain, higher temperatures will increase the rate of loss of soil moisture during dry spells, leading to more serious conditions during future naturally-occurring droughts, including an increase in the occurrence and severity of wildfires.

 

Kansas Palmer Drought Severity Index

Kansas Palmer  Drought Severity Index

Figure 6: Time series of the Palmer Drought Severity Index from the year 1000 to 2014. Values for 1895–2014 (red) are based on measured temperature and precipitation. Values prior to 1895 (blue) are estimated from indirect measures such as tree rings. The thick black line is a running 20-year average. In the modern era, the wet periods of the early 1900s and the dry period of the 1930s–1940s are evident. Despite occasional years of drought (2011–2012), Kansas has experienced overall wet conditions since the 1980s. The extended record indicates periodic occurrences of similar extended wet and dry periods. Source: CICS-NC and NOAA NCEI.

 

Projected Change in Summer Precipitation

Projected Change in Summer Precipitation

Figure 7: Projected change in summer precipitation (%) for the middle of the 21st century compared to the late 20th century under a higher emissions pathway. Hatching represents areas where the majority of climate models indicate a statistically significant change. Summer precipitation is projected to decrease in the range of 5%–10% by 2050, although the changes are statistically significant only in the central part of the state. Source: CICS-NC, NOAA NCEI, and NEMAC.

Lead Authors:
Rebekah Frankson, Kenneth E. Kunkel
Contributing Authors:
Laura Stevens, David Easterling, Xiaomao Lin, Martha Shulski
Recommended Citation:
Frankson, R., K. Kunkel, L. Stevens, D. Easterling, X. Lin, and M. Shulski, 2017: Kansas State Climate Summary. NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 149-KS, 4 pp.

Resources

  1. EPA, 2016: What climate change means for Kansas, EPA 430-F-16-018, 2 pp., United States Environmental Protection Agency. [Available online at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-ks.pdf]
  2. Kunkel, K.E, L.E. Stevens, S.E. Stevens, L. Sun, E. Janssen, D. Wuebbles, M.C. Kruk, D.P. Thomas, M. Shulski, N. Umphlett, K. Hubbard, K. Robbins, L. Romolo, A. Akyuz, T. Pathak, T. Bergantino, and J.G. Dobson, 2013: Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Part 4. Climate of the U.S. Great Plains, NOAA Technical Report NESDIS 142-4, 82 pp. [Available online at https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/technical-reports]
  3. NOAA, cited 2016: 1966 Topeka tornado, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service, [Available online at http://www.weather.gov/top/1966TopekaTornado]
  4. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate at a Glance: Kansas April-August Palmer Z-Index, published November 2016, retrieved on November 5, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/]
  5. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, published October 2016, retrieved on October 18, 2016, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information. [Available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/]
  6. NOAA, cited 2016: Climate of Kansas, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climatenormals/clim60/states/Clim_KS_01.pdf]
  7. NOAA, cited 2016: F5 and EF5 tornadoes of the United States, 1950-present, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Storm Prediction Center. [Available online at http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/f5torns.html]
  8. NOAA, cited 2016: Top ten KS tornadoes, Historical Kansas F5/EF5 tornadoes, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [Available online at http://www.weather.gov/ict/toptenkstors]
  9. Rahmani, V., S.L. Hutchinson, J.A. Harrington, and J.M.S. Hutchinson, 2016: Analysis of frequency and magnitude of extreme rainfall events with potential impacts on flooding: A case study from the central United States. Int. J. Climatol., 36, 3578–3587, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/joc.4577.
  10. States at Risk, cited 2016: Kansas, America’s Preparedness Report Card. [Available online at http://assets.statesatrisk.org/summaries/Kansas_report.pdf]
  11. U.S. EPA, 2014: Climate change indicators in the United States, 2014, Third edition, EPA 430-R-14-004, 112pp, United States Environmental Protection Agency. [Available online at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-07/documents/climateindicators-full-2014.pdf]
  12. United States Drought Monitor, cited 2016: Maps and Data. [Available online at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/MapsAndData.aspx]
  13. USGS, 2001: The 1951 floods in Kansas revisited, Kansas Water Science Center, USGS Fact Sheet 041-01, United States Geological Survey. [Available online at http://ks.water.usgs.gov/pubs/fact-sheets/fs.041-01.html]
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