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Heat, drought overwhelming state

7/22/2012

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Drought has tightened its grip on Kansas, with extreme -- and now exceptional -- drought covering fully two thirds of the state.

The numbers alone are overwhelming:

* It was the hottest June in Hays since records have been kept, with a mean temperature of 55 degrees. The average is 49 degrees.

* Kansas communities were the warmest in the nation six times in June, breaking a string of day-time highs that were recorded in Death Valley, Calif.

* The heat wave is being blamed for the deaths of at least three northwest Kansas residents in May and June.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment won't release many details, however, fearful of identifying the victims.

* Emergency haying and grazing of land enrolled in the popular Conservation Reserve Program now is allowed in 104 Kansas counties, and fields already were being baled Thursday.

* All-time highs were set at stations throughout northwest Kansas.

Cedar Bluff hit 110 on June 26 and 29, tying the old record set June 15, 2003. Colby had a high of 113 on June 28. Norton's high of 118 on June 28 broke the previous high of 113 set three days earlier.

Oakley hit a new high of 111 on June 25 and 28, matching the previous June 11, 1954, high.

* Rivers and streams in northwest Kansas are seeing record lows as well, in some cases dramatically so. At the Smoky Hill River gauge near Russell, the river flow Friday was 0.53 cubic feet per second. The previous July 20 low for the gauge, in place for 36 years, was 3.4 cfs in 1954. A cubic foot of water contains 7.5 gallons.

"So what you can tell from that is flow is significantly lower than 1954," said Craig Dare, in charge of the Hays U.S. Geological Survey office responsible for river gauges in western Kansas.

Even in the long-running gauge on the Smoky near Ellsworth -- something of a benchmark to compare against -- the flow Friday was 2.4 cfs. The all-time low, set in 1901, was 4 cfs.

Last week, Dare sent a staffer to the Ellsworth gauge to double check it.

"If this is true, that is going to be a new record low in 99 years," he said.

Typically, streams dry out later in the summer.

"Late September is usually our driest time in western Kansas," Dare said.

Conditions in southwest Kansas are markedly improved this year compared to last, said Kansas Water Office executive director Tracy Streeter, who also serves as chairman of the state's drought task force.

Severe drought, he said, has shifted into northwest Kansas.

"The Smoky's dry all the way up and down the system," Streeter said.

The state's Division of Water Resources is administering minimum desirable streamflow while the Kansas Water Office is selling any excess water it has in reservoirs.

While there isn't a whole lot the state can do to relieve pressures from the drought, Streeter said they try to raise awareness about what's available.