2012 marked by drought, warm temps

By Megan Moser

The key word for weather in 2012 was dry. For much of the year, the state battled extreme drought that threatened crops and wildlife, and depleted water supplies.

“The latest is that we’re still in extreme drought in our area,” state climatologist Mary Knapp said. “It’s not only affecting agriculture, but also lake levels, which spills over into recreational activities.”

The dry conditions, along with water releases throughout the year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, combined for a second all-time low level at Tuttle Creek Reservoir. The receding water uncovered trees and trash, and forced many boat owners to pull their boats out or risk seeing them stranded on dry land.

The lake elevation was at 1,062.52 as of Monday morning,  putting the current level second only to an elevation of 1,060.82 set in 1967.

Total precipitation for the year was 21.88 inches, which was almost 13.74 inches below the average of 35.62. That made 2012 the eighth driest year on record for Manhattan.

It was also the eighth lowest year on record for snowfall.

Warm spring

While the year in general was warmer than usual, March was especially warm, setting a new record of 57.4 degrees for average high temperatures. That was 1.4 degrees warmer than the previous record set in 1910.

March also saw a new record for earliest date of last freeze. That occurred on March 10.

“It was a very early start to growing season,” Knapp said. “That’s one reason we didn’t have problems with the wheat. In previous years where we had very warm temperatures, the wheat advanced out of dormancy and was more vulnerable to damage.”

And as a matter of fact, 2012 was a contender for the warmest year on record until the last few weeks of December, when cold temperatures took it down a few notches.

Still, 2012 was the seventh warmest on record by average temperature and the sixth warmest for high temperature.



The biggest extreme weather story of the year was the February outbreak of tornadoes in Wabaunsee County, including one that destroyed much of Harveyville and killed one person there.

“That was unusual because people don’t typically expect tornadic activity in February,” Knapp said.

In fact, the year stood out for its lack of tornadoes, she said. Drought across two-thirds of the country during the June and July tornado season meant fewer twisters.

“No precipitation, no storms,” Knapp said.


2013 outlook

The Climate Prediction Center has released its outlook for the first three months of 2013, and there’s a slight chance for above-normal temperatures for the area, Knapp said.

Precipitation is equally likely to be above or below normal for the eastern half of the state.

Further out, there’s a strong chance for above-normal temperatures through the spring, she said, and equal chances of moisture for all of Kansas except the southwest.

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