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Climatologist’s interests led to K-State job

About three or four times each week, Mary Knapp, 64, makes the just under a mile roundtrip trek from her K-State office to a weather station north of Call Hall — rain, shine or snow.

And Knapp would know about the elements, since she makes that trip as part of her duties as the assistant state climatologist for Kansas.

In her position at the university, Knapp says she handles a wide variety of weather-related tasks, including collecting, archiving and making available weather and climate data for state and federal agencies. The weather data collection — which is still done manually at some of the state network’s stations, including the one on campus — is a K-State tradition that dates back to 1857 with Isaac Goodnow’s early efforts, and it’s one that Knapp prides herself in continuing.

“It’s a very, very long record,” Knapp said. “For most of the early part of the record, individuals were responsible for the observations, but K-State — before it was a university and it was still just a college — took on the responsibility as an institution, and we’ve kept up the work.”

Her inclination toward documenting was evident back in high school, when her adviser suggested that history was one of her talents. But she didn’t want to do history, so she graduated from K-State with an agronomy degree. After that, she spent a few years in the Peace Corps as a rice extension agent in the Dominican Republic, working to identify suitable rice growing techniques and qualities for the region.

After that, she returned to K-State as an entomologist researcher, making her way to the computer information systems department in K-State’s extension division and worked with then-state climatologist Dean Bark. In the almost 40 years Knapp has worked at K-State, she said she’s loved the small-town setting in the Flint Hills.

“It’s a small town with all of the amenities of a big town, and I like having all four seasons,” Knapp said.

Other parts of her job include responding to requests for data, which “run the gamut” from the mundane to the unusual. Oftentimes, the requests are for agricultural data to help document crop and animal performance, and crop suitability conditions. Municipalities will also ask for data on historical flooding, and businesses will ask for heat histories to figure out their heating and cooling system needs.

But the more interesting requests have a personal touch. One time, Knapp said she helped someone corroborate some ancestral history.

“Someone was doing genealogy search, and there were reports that a great-great-great-great-ancestor had died crossing the plains in the 1800s, and they wanted to verify what the weather was like during their reported time of their crossing the plains, to refute or substantiate those reports, essentially,” Knapp said.

“There were actually some severe winter storms during that time period that would have validated the possibility that he had died in a winter storm crossing the plains.”

At K-State, Knapp doesn’t have any formal teaching responsibilities, but she frequently guest lectures in classes, and throughout the community, she gives presentations on the weather as part of the university’s extension component. She said the most rewarding part of the job is being able to answer people’s questions.

“It’s just having that information available and getting it out of the dusty archives and into the hands of someone who wants to use it,” Knapp said.

And as much as the weather changes, Knapp stays consistently busy with the job.

“The change in seasons just means what people are looking for changes,” Knapp said. “There’s not really a quiet season. There’s always somebody who’s looking for something.”

Tornadoes are a big point of discussion, especially with people moving into the state or living in the area temporarily.

Knapp said given Kansas’ location in tornado alley, those people are sometimes a bit scared of the weather. Even though Kansas gets its fair share of tornadoes, the state doesn’t even rank in the top 10 for tornado fatalities.

Knapp said she leaves the storm chasing to her colleagues, as her preference is to document.

“If you want to know how many tornadoes fell in a certain month, time period, or in a county, any of those things I can come up with statistics, but I’m not going to go looking for them,” Knapp said.

Courtesy photo  

Maj. David Griffith, executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment, 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, atop an M1A2 Abrams Tank, salutes the crowd Friday during Poland’s Constitution Day Parade in Warsaw. Approximately 30 soldiers from the 1st ID and four soldiers from 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery out of Baumholder, Germany, took part in the parade.

Riley County approves settlement for EMS ice storm crash

Riley County commissioners on Monday unanimously approved an insurance settlement of more than $23,000 after an ambulance crashed and rolled over during an ice storm in January.

The ambulance, operated by the county’s Emergency Medical Services, is insured by Oak River Insurance Company of Omaha, Nebraska.

The county requested a claim from the company for about $74,000, but with the deductible and remaining lease owed, the final claim amounted to about $23,350.

“It’s not what I wanted, but I guess that’s what they’re giving us,” Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez said.

During an ice storm on Jan. 22, the emergency vehicle spun into a median and rolled onto its side on Kansas Highway 18, about a mile west of Manhattan, while responding to a call.

The driver was not injured but the passenger, another emergency responder, was treated at Via Christi Hospital.

Tax payments due

The second half of tax payments for real estate and personal property are due Friday to the county treasurer’s office.

No motor vehicle transactions will be processed if any of the following taxes are delinquent: personal property, intangible, watercraft, 16M/20M trucks and oil or gas.

People can pay in person at 110 Courthouse Plaza, in drop boxes at the office, online at, by phone at 1-800-272-9829 or by mail. People with questions can call 785-537-6321.

K-State to get at least $4M more in FY2020

K-State will receive at least $4 million in restored funding after the legislature passed a fiscal year 2020 budget measure over the weekend.

State legislators passed Senate Bill 25 on Saturday with a 79-45 vote in the House. The bill will provide $8.9 million to the Kansas Board of Regents, seen as a restoration of some of the money cut during the state’s lean financial years. It restores $4 million to KSU global food systems research. K-State also will receive $520,000 from the state general fund for the Polytechnic Campus in Salina to hire additional flight instructors. The bill also adds $10.5 million from the state general fund for grants and technical education aid.

Gov. Laura Kelly recommended $18.5 billion for all funding sources, and the House Appropriations Committee recommended $18.2 billion overall.

Sue Peterson, chief government relations officer at K-State, said they are appreciative of the money but don’t know how much K-State ultimately will receive until the regents decide what to do with the $8.9 million.

“We’re appreciative to see part of the backfill from 2017, but the rest was given to the Board of Regents who will allocate it from there,” she said.

According to documents, K-State requested $576.1 million for 2020, a $5.9 million decrease from 2019. The governor and the house committee approved $581.2 million, including the $4 million for the research funds and $1.1 million from the 2017 reduction. This number did not include at the time the additional $520,000 for the flight instructors at Polytechnic.

The committee agreed with the governor for the K-State Extension Systems and Agricultural Research Programs as well, allotting $149.5 million, or an increase of $502,504 from 2019.

The bill also gives $64.5 million to K-State’s Veterinary Medical Center, an increase of $168,829 from 2019.

Reps. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, and Suzi Carlson, R-Clay Center, voted for the state budget bill that included university funding.

Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, voted against the bill. Gov. Kelly and Democrats had pushed to include Medicaid expansion as a part of the budget bill.

Country Stampede safe from high waters at Tuttle Creek Lake

Country Stampede shouldn’t be affected by higher waters at Tuttle Creek Lake, festival president Wayne Rouse said Monday.

The three-day country music festival is slated for June 20-22 at Tuttle Creek State Park, which sits at the southern end of the lake.

The lake pool has been sitting at its third-highest level on record, only surpassed by levels in 1973 and 1993, which reached a record 1,138 feet.

Current lake readings show the elevation is 1,117.18 feet, about 42 feet higher than normal. Outflow has increased to 2,000 cubic feet per second and inflow to 5,000 cubic feet per second.

Rouse said the only thing that could potentially be affected by the water would be the closings of certain campsites.

“They (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the lake) still control the dam really well and it hasn’t had an impact on us,” Rouse said. “They told us it takes about 30 days to drain the lake down once they’re able to start, but they’re not going to flood the River Pond area. We’re not even close to where it would impact us.”

Headliners at the festival include Jason Aldean, Old Dominion and Jake Owen.