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Cold and colder: Fronts causing fickle temps

By Corene Brisendine

Most Kansans know the old saying that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute because it will change.

This week is no different, except that changes will range from cold to really, really cold.

Kansas State University climatologist Mary Knapp said that the erratic temperatures this week and next are “not unusual” for this time of year, but that doesn’t make it any easier for forecasters.

“It’s just going to basically be a roller coaster ride,” she said.

Knapp said that predicting the weather as a series of arctic fronts move through becomes difficult, because if they track slightly east or west, it drastically changes the forecast.

She said that the first cold front should move through Wednesday and Thursday. Friday temperatures are projected to be warmer, but a second cold front is to hit on Saturday.

A third cold front is forecast for Sunday, and it is predicted to drive temperatures even lower.

However, depending on when those fronts move through, highs and low for each day could change, perhaps significantly.

Knapp said that if a cold front moves through during the day — as is typical in Kansas — the high will be at midnight and the low at 3 p.m.

Another factor contributing to the erratic temperatures is the dry air.

“It provides a chance of greater range in temperatures,” she said. “If you’ve got more moisture in the air, it takes more energy to drop or raise the temperature.”

Knapp said that’s why it can be in the 40s during the day and below freezing at night – when the wind comes out of the south and west, it brings warm air creating warmer days. When the wind comes out of the north or the sun goes down, the warmth disappears and leaves single-digit temperatures because there is no moisture to hold it steady.

Knapp said that because the cold fronts are coming out of the Arctic, there is little to no moisture with them.

She said that January is typically a dry month. Even though the precipitation is about half the normal amount, one good rain could “wipe out that deficit.”

Knapp said that Wednesday night and Thursday might develop “a snowflake or two,” but people shouldn’t get their hopes up.

She said that the freeze/thaw cycle created by the erratic temperatures also causes the topsoil to dry out. Add strong winds of15 to 20 mph, and it contributes to the ongoing drought – along with blowing dust.

The federal government has recognized 37 counties across Kansas as being in a severe drought condition.

Knapp said that with all the dry air, people should avoid starting fires because the vegetation is extremely dry.

She said that northwest Kansas already has red-flag warnings out, and a wildfire was put out in northern Riley County over the weekend.

She said that even a sparking power line is enough to start a fire under current conditions.

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