Purchase photos

May 1907 a discouraging month

4/25/2013

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

We’ve grown soft with all the complaining about a winter that won’t give up the ghost.

No, the 2,000 or so hardy souls who called Hays their home in 1907, they had a right to complain.

April might have been cold and snowy in 1907, but May didn't get any better, setting the stage for problems later in the year, including a round of flooding July 14.

While there's no real way to compare 1907 with 2013, there are some similarities, including continuing snowfall this year.

May 1907 lays claim to the latest and biggest snowfall ever recorded at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center at the south edge of Hays.

An inch of snow fell May 3, 1907, according to station weather observer Joe Becker, who pulled out the stately record books containing the information. That was the only measurable snowfall recorded in May, although there have been trace amounts recorded in 1911, 1949 and 1950.

The troubles didn't stop there, however, according to Becker.

"May 1907," he reported, "was not a great month."

Weather observations at the time were taken at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily by George K. Helder, an administrative assistant who later went on to lead what then was the Fort Hays Experiment Station.

Temperatures were a great concern, with frost and hard freezes recorded multiple times during the month.

Many of the temperature records still standing today hail from 1907, Becker said.

It was the extremes that caught his attention.

It was May 15, 1907, when the daytime high hit 69 degrees before dropping to a bone-chilling 17 degrees.

As if that wasn't enough, the next day -- May 16, 1907 -- the high hit 90 degrees, Becker said. That was before the thermometer plummeted to 32 degrees that night.

The temperature climbed back up to 91 degrees the next day.

It was May 27, however, when trouble returned.

That's when the high of the day hit 67 degrees, only to fall to 25 degrees overnight.

"Ice formed," Helder's narrative details.

In his crop comments, Helder noted the corn had been killed, as well as berry blossoms and gardens destroyed.

"They had to spend a good 20 minutes or more writing this out," Becker said of the depth of the comments and observations Helder included when he recorded the weather data.

The wheat had started heading out May 26 and by June 1, the early wheat was well-headed but the straw was very short.

Oats and other spring small grains had been "practically destroyed by wind and drought."

The freeze also hurt young leaf growth on "hackberry, catalpa, ash, mulberry and locust trees," Helder wrote.

It wasn't an especially wet month, with only 0.83 of an inch of moisture recorded.

The "month closed with light showers," Becker said Helder wrote, "but conditions are critical now."

April 1907 wasn't much kinder, with temperatures falling below freezing approximately half the time, Becker said.

Helder said April had been a "very unfortunate month for vegetation," Becker said. "Even grass was clipped on the 19th."

March was something of a transitional month, with a warm spell spanning nearly 10 days.

It was February 1907, however, that would be responsible for much of the vegetative damage in April and May.

The ice on Big Creek, Becker said of Helder's observations, had come off by the 13th of the month.

That was nearly the situation this year, as temperatures warmed only to come crashing back down in April.

May's weather, obviously, is yet to be seen.