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Drought might ease as heat stays

1/27/2013

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

John Heinrichs' crystal ball is just as dusty as the next guy's, but he's suggesting the regional weather pattern just might turn back to normal -- the new normal of warmer temperatures.

He's basing that on a lack of any over arching weather pattern, a lack of an El Nino or even a La Nina, which brought with it last summer's scorching drought.

He lays the blame for that marked warming trend squarely at the feet of climate change, brought about by an increase in green house gases.

And he's not about to suggest a return to normal in that instance.

"Warming is a long-term thing and that's going to continue," the Fort Hays State University professor said. "There really isn't anything that's going to stop it."

That means it's likely northwest Kansas will continue to see days of extreme highs. Northwest Kansas residents sweltered through a string of 100-degree days, setting new records and, in the case of Hill City and Norton, serving as the hot spots of the nation this summer.

Last year was the warmest on record for the contiguous United States, and the list of new record highs scrolls on and on.

Dodge City, Topeka and Wichita were the warmest on record, Goodland the fourth warmest. Those were just the sites with National Weather Service bureaus.

Hays, with records going back 111 years, was the third warmest on record.

But the list continued with a string of all-time records falling.

In northwest Kansas, those included Norton with a high of 113 and Colby with a high of 112 on June 25.

Cedar Bluff registered a high of 111 on June 26, tying the old record.

On June 27, Brewster hit 112, matching a previous record set in 2005. Smith Center joined the fray, also with a high of 112. Dodge City and Tribune hit 111.

It was on June 28, however, when the Norton Dam hit 118, breaking the previous high of 113, set just three days earlier. Colby and Smith Center both reported highs of 113, also breaking records set a day to three days earlier.

Wallace hit 112, matching the previous high set in 1917, while Oakley hit 111.

Cedar Bluff hit 110 on June 29, tying a record set three days earlier.

Despite the summertime highs, Heinrichs said it's the winters that are warming faster than the summer.

That's likely reflected in the 7.1 inches of snow that's been recorded so far this season, well below the average.

The warmer temperatures also are being seen in overnight lows.

"This is a long term thing," he said of the warming trend.

Precipitation levels likely will rise slightly, but as temperatures warm and evaporation and water use climbs, there will be a net loss.

Precipitation patterns, Heinrichs said, are "10 times as variable as temperature."

Because there isn't any overriding pattern to the weather, he's suggesting conditions might moderate.

"It's not going to be as crazy a drought as last year, I can't believe," he said.

But that only means a return to a new normal, one that he said will continue for the next 70 to 100 years even if carbon dioxide releases are halted.

"We're going to have to learn to adapt," Heinrichs said of coping with higher temperatures. "We can't make it the way it was."

Details from the National Weather Service about 2012's weather is availalbe online at www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc.