No. 3: Hot, dry weather persists across southwest Kansas
Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.
BY RACHAEL GRAY
A late December snow in 2012 did little more for southwest Kansas than give some teachers and students an added day to winter break.
The already parched soil of the region did not get much of a break in 2012, as the drought persisted and, in some cases, worsened.
The year 2012 ranks as one of the top 10 warmest and driest years on record since 1931, which hindered crop production and growth, although producers by and large had a better year than in 2011.
The ongoing story of continuing drought ranks No. 3 on The Telegram's list of top 10 news stories of 2012.
This year currently ranks as the fourth warmest since 1931, behind only 1934, 1946 and 1933, according to state climatologist Mary Knapp.
"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, three spots behind 2011, which was the sixth driest year, Knapp said.
The corn and wheat harvests for some farmers were better than last year, and producers say more mild weather than 2011 contributed to some success. But crop production still has remained lower than average.
Ken Jameson, grain manager at Garden City Co-op, said earlier this year that he predicted the co-op would take 60 percent of a normal wheat crop. In June, he reported the co-op would take about 75 percent of an average crop during wheat harvest this year.
Jameson had said the strong winds and high temperatures were putting a strain on corn. He said some farmers are beginning to struggle with wells. Some are choosing to only irrigate half of their fields in order to concentrate more water on half the crop.
In June, multiple 100-degree days strained crops, in addition to the ongoing drought.
"This is the worst scenario we could have, particularly since it's such a long stretch," Jameson said.
Gary Friesen, of Scott Co-op, said that despite the drought, quality and test weights of the wheat crop this year were extremely good. He said wheat harvest this year was a little better than average, even with drought conditions.
"We're pretty pleased. It was about double what last year was," he said.
He said he thinks cooler temperatures in the spring helped the growing season.
"It didn't burn up quite as early. Dryland burned, but this year, but later — it had a chance to make something. Last year, acres were abandoned. It was a night-and-day difference on weather," he said.
As for corn, some Finney County producers did better than last year.
Greg Stone, Finney County corn farmer and former Kansas Corn commissioner, said earlier this fall that his corn crop was better this year than last.
"... It's better than expected, I would say, overall," he said.
Stone cited two factors for seeing improvement in his own yields, as well others.
"We had a combination of better weather conditions. And most farmers were a little more defensive than they were last year. Practices contributed a little more this year," he said.
Warren Devore, of United Prairie Ag based out of Ulysses, said yields this fall were all over the board, but said harvest went better this year than last.
"Last year, we had the heat and wind and didn't pollinate as well. This year, we didn't have that problem. It's going to be better than last year, but not an average crop at all," Devore had said in late September.
As the year ended with warmer, hotter temperatures, save a several-hour long snowstorm that brought 0.08 inches of precipitation, farmers worry about the upcoming growing season.
Knapp said a wetter winter could benefit crops, although winters in southwest Kansas tend to not be the time when the soil gets the most moisture.
"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 a few weeks ago, when unseasonably warm temperatures were still the norm in southwest Kansas.
The big chance for improvement, on the moisture side at least, is February through April.
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 tying 2004 as the 20th warmest November on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Through November, 2012 was 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, according to NOAA. 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.
Knapp said it's typical for Garden City to not receive moisture in the winter months of December and January.
"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.