Widespread drought expected to continue

By Rose Schneider

It’s certainly possible that it will remain hot and dry - and Kansas farmers ought to adjust their practices to deal with that new reality, a climate expert said here Tuesday.

State climatologist Mary Knapp of Kansas State University told attendees at the annual Kansas Farm Bureau meeting here that droughts in this part of the country go on for a long time. She cited research by a recent K-State graduate showing many 75-year droughts, as measured by the rings in trees.

So farmers need to be able to successfully adapt to the possibility of that happening again, Knapp said, particularly by watching signs from nature and keeping up with research. Farmers should manage their energy, water and land resources accordingly, she said, and they should monitor change to continue to produce profitable crops.

This region has seen increased drought, more frequent and intense springtime flooding, and higher summer temperatures, she said. But farming practices have not changed much, she said.

“There has not been much change in the Central Plains region,” Knapp said.

Knapp was one of about 20 presenters at the 94th annual Kansas Farm Bureau meeting on Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center.

Droughts have affected the area for a very long time, she said. In 1895, 20 percent of range livestock were killed during a dust storm that swept through Kansas.

The growing seasons, from May to September, are usually the wettest months in the area. However, the longest consecutive dry periods recorded have also been recorded during these months, Knapp said. Results of less than a quarter-inch of rainfall have been documented at more than a 70-day duration — a long time not to have precipitation in farmlands during crucial growing times.

The current drought has caused many additional problems for farmers and ranchers, Knapp said.

“The problem that comes from such an expansive drought is that now you have no resources to draw upon,” said Knapp. “When you’re talking about things for your livestock, you can’t bring stuff down from Nebraska or Wyoming because no one has it.”

This year’s November was the 35th driest on record with little over an inch of rainfall statewide. November also had 22 days in which no rain was recorded anywhere in Kansas, Knapp said.

According to the November Kansas Climate Survey, extreme drought now covers 77.6 percent of the state, with nearly 36 percent of the state in “exceptional drought.” November was between three and five degrees warmer than usual; however, October was two degrees cooler than average.

“It’s entirely likely that we will have normal nice days and cold fronts that come through in the upcoming year,” said Knapp.

Kansas is currently seeing neutral conditions, which are expected to continue through the winter.

“What we’d really like to see is for those California storms to come up through San Diego to the four corners bringing moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to us by delivering the moisture we need,” she said.

Kansas has been experiencing La Nina for the past three years. That weather pattern brings the warmer and dryer conditions.

Knapp said the area could really benefit from an El Nino developing in late spring, which would bring cooler conditions. An El Nino can last several months to several years.

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