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Rainfall fails to fall when needed on the plains

1/10/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

It just didn't work this year, that old adage of April showers bringing in May flowers. Of course, the showers were lacking.

Instead, June or July -- or August at Hays -- were the months of heavy rains.

If you can call it that, considering most places in northwest Kansas were on the short end of the stick as far as rainfall was concerned.

At the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center south of Hays, for example, only 18.82 inches of precipitation fell last year. That's 3.71 inches below normal.

At Goodland, 19.33 inches of precipitation fell. That's only about a third of an inch less than normal.

Colby, which recorded 20.31 inches, was a notable exception. It normally would expect to see 19.39 inches of precipitation.

Hill City had 20.17 inches of precipitation, while 22.05 would be normal.

Of course, all four cities were markedly better than Dodge City, where, after the sixth-wettest December on record, the National Weather Service was only able to eke out a paltry 10.3 inches of precipitation.

Weather last year was an odd mix, with a crush of high heat and a higher than normal number of days when temperatures dipped below zero.

It, however, is a treasure trove for weather enthusiasts.

Consider these tidbits for Hays:

* Temperatures climbed above the century mark in Hays 39 times last year, sharply higher than the annual average of 16.

* The thermometer fell below zero 10 times in 2011, in January and February. In a normal year, that would be expected to happen only seven times.

* Measurable precipitation fell 95 times in 2011.

* Total snowfall for the year amounted to 28.9 inches, nearly 10 inches more than normal. Both Colby and Goodland recorded 33 inches of snow, not far from normal.

Of course, there isn't much that's normal about northwest Kansas weather.

The 2011 below-zero events was the most since 2004, when 13 were recorded. Before that, it was 1996, and then 18 frigid days were recorded.

The 39 days -- mostly in July -- when temperatures topped 100 degrees was the most since 1936 -- a year when temperature hit the century mark a whopping 54 times.

Temperatures were relatively normal through the start of 2011, with the exception of a slight dip in February.

All that changed when June -- and the onslaught of warm weather -- arrived.

June was downright hot, with highs running 5 degrees above normal and the average temperature nearly 4 degrees above normal.

That trend continued through August before moderating slightly.

Based on 111 years of record-keeping, the Hays growing season was exactly average, at 170 days.

Despite the uncharacteristically unfriendly nature of the weather this year, it actually pales in comparison to some of the extremes.

* This year's rainfall of 19.12 inches is less than half the 43.34 inches recorded in 1951 and more than twice the 9.21 inches recorded in 1956.

* The 28.9 inches of snow that fell is less than the 47 inches recorded in 1960 but so much more than the 0.6 of an inch in 1946.

* Temperatures are the wow factor, with the all-time high of 117 coming July 13, 1934. Last year's top was 109 on June 30.

* Last year's low of 8 below zero is significantly warmer than the all-time cold temperature, that of 26 below zero set Feb. 13, 1905. Temperatures fell to 25 below zero on both Dec. 22 and 23 in 1989.