December temperatures above average for Garden City
By RACHAEL GRAY
The year 2012 ranks in the top 10 since 1931 as the warmest and driest in Garden City, and not much change is in sight.
That's according to several Kansas weather officials, who say although December can be warm and dry, the current temperatures have been well above average and precipitation below.
Local residents have been taking advantage of the warm December — doing outdoor projects, hanging Christmas decorations and playing sports around the city.
Although the mild weather may be enjoyable, for area producers, it's a worry that compounds already exceptional drought conditions.
Relief from the dry conditions won't be likely in the next few months.
Mary Knapp, state climatologist, said it's typical for Garden City to not receive moisture in the winter months of December and January.
"December can be on the dry side regardless of what you get," she said.
"It doesn't look very optimistic to get much improvement in the situation when you're talking drought in winter months. You very rarely have wet winters," she said.
This year currently ranks as the fourth warmest for Garden City since 1931, only behind 1934, 1946 and 1933, Knapp said.
"If you look at the top 10 hottest years, seven out of the 10 years were in the 1930s," she said.
On the moisture side, 2012 ranks as the ninth driest year since 1931; 2011 was the sixth driest year, Knapp said.
John Finch, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Dodge City, reported so far that in December, Garden City's temperatures are about 10 degrees above average for lows and 15 degrees above normal for highs.
The average high temperature for the first six days of December is about 47 or 48 degrees, with average lows at about 21 to 22 degrees, Finch said.
Finch reported highs of 68 Dec. 2, 66 on Dec. 3, 59 on Dec. 4 and 62 on Dec. 5 in Garden City.
Finch said it's not rare to be in the lower 60s the first part of December.
"It's not really that unusual to be in the lower 60s. It's above average, but it's not rare or anything. We've been warm this time of year before," he said.
But the concern is the warm temperatures and lack of moisture, over an extended period of time.
Knapp said the biggest concern is for the crops.
"If we move into seasonable temperatures, the wheat will go into dormancy and can better withstand a lack of moisture. But if we continue with mild conditions, it's more prone to run out of moisture," she said.
The big chance for improvement, on the moisture side at least, is February through April.
"The possibility of precipitation through the weekend is not overwhelming. The outlook is not particularly wet. You might get between zero and 0.01 inches of precipitation," Knapp said.
"It's a small chance for Sunday, but it doesn't look like much of anything. Some flurries, if we get anything," Finch said.
Meanwhile, the drought continues to expand in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, Reuters reports.
The average temperature for the contiguous United States last month was 44.1 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.1 degrees above the 20th century average, and tied 2004 as the 20th warmest November on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Reuters reported Thursday.
The year-to-date marks the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States, and for the entire year, 2012 will most likely surpass the current record as the warmest year for the nation, NOAA said. The warm weather accelerates evaporation of any precipitation that does fall, and keeps plants — like the new wheat crop — trying to grow, rather than slipping into normal winter dormancy.
Areas of drought expansion last week were noted across parts of Texas, central Louisiana, east-central Missouri, eastern Kansas and the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, according to the Drought Monitor's weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists and issued each Thursday. The U.S. High Plains, which includes key farm states of Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas, are the hardest hit. In that region, 58.39 percent of the land area is in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories of drought. A week ago, the tally was 57.89 percent, Reuters reports.
Nebraska remained the most parched state with 100 percent of the state in severe or worse drought, and 77.46 percent of the state considered in "exceptional" drought — the worst level, according to the Drought Monitor. Overall, roughly 62.37 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of Dec. 4, a slight improvement from 62.55 percent a week earlier. The portion of the contiguous United States under "extreme" or "exceptional" drought expanded to 20.63 percent from 20.12 percent.
Roughly 65 percent of the new winter wheat crop is in drought-hit areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many producers might elect to abandon the crop due to its extremely poor condition, the government said.
Since the 1950s, there have been only two years when U.S. winter wheat abandonment reached or exceeded one-quarter of the crop — the 1988-89 season and the 2001-02 season. Current U.S. winter wheat conditions are worse now than in November of those seasons, USDA said.
Reuters contributed to this report.