A thin blanket of snow covered Garden City Monday morning, topping off one of the city’s coldest and wettest winters of the past few years.
Southwest Kansas largely saw 1.5 inches of snow or less Monday, with early reports in Garden City coming in at about half an inch, said Greg Tatro, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Dodge City.
The flurries bring Garden City’s winter snowfall total, spanning late November to Monday, at about 13.7 inches, coming under the 18-inch average of the past 30 years but towering over totals of recent years. The 2017-18 winter, spanning the beginning of December to the end of February, saw less than half an inch of snow, the 2016-17 winter had 7.5 inches, and the 2015-16 winter just 2 inches, Tatro said. The year before, snowfall did break double digits, he said.
“This year has been a little snowier than average,” said Mary Knapp, Kansas state climatologist.
The trend was similar throughout southwest Kansas, Tatro said. Scott City has received about 19 inches of snow this winter, compared to totals hovering under 5 inches in the past three years. Ulysses is at about 11 to 12 inches, compared to 1.2, 8.8 and 5.2 inches in recent years, he said.
This winter is not breaking any Garden City records, Knapp said, but it is the 18th coldest since 1957, and the coldest, on average, the town has seen since 2014. Alternatively, 2017 and 2016 are in the top three warmest winters the city has seen since 1957, she said.
Weather systems and colder air masses moving in from the Pacific Ocean moved farther south this year than they have in recent years, allowing for better chances of snow, Tatro said.
At this time last year, southwest Kansas counties were faced with severe to extreme drought conditions, Tatro said. This year, no county in the region is dealing with any class of drought.
The frosty weather will impact local agriculture on several fronts, Knapp said. Temperatures flip-flopping from warm to freezing create icy, muddy, stressful environments for livestock, she said, and feed demands go up in colder climates.
A wetter winter also can saturate the soil and complicate planting schedules as farmers wait for the land to dry out, Knapp said. Currently, this is more of a problem on the eastern side of the state than in the north or western sides, she said. Freeze and frost cycles also can create heating issues and push certain developing plants out of the ground, where they are more vulnerable, she said.
But, there are positive results, too, Knapp said. She said snow can insulate crops like winter wheat, seep moisture into the soil more slowly, preventing runoff. Snow also can slow the rate at which crops break through the soil, which can reduce potential damage.
Colder temperatures and opportunities for snowfall likely will continue for the next 30 days, and periodic rain showers should continue through the warmer spring months, Tatro said. The increase in moisture is helpful on the agricultural side and can reduce wildfire danger in the region, he said.
Wet soil is not a cure-all for wildfires, however, Knapp said. Grass dries out quickly in warmer months, and fires can burn through fields regardless of the moisture level on the ground, she said. The danger of more potent fires is not as likely as in times of drought, when low humidity days are more frequent, she said.
“You get (low) humidity, 65-degree day, and winds roaring at 20, 30 mph, you’re going to have a high fire danger,” Knapp said.
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