Editor’s note: A look back at some of the top stories of 2016.
While 2016 started out with typically dry weather in northwest Kansas, a spring system that moved in from the four corners area was a game-changer that brought cooler temperatures as well as heavy rains and severe storms that left great damage in their wakes.
For the first time in six years, the map produced by the United States Drought Monitor showed the entire state of Kansas in normal conditions for part of the year.
Drought Monitor is a joint effort from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The maps and drought index it produces are used in allocating drought relief.
Records from the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Station show Hays received 26.37 inches of moisture as of Dec. 15, the wettest year since 2008, when there was 28.61 inches.
The 30-year average is 23.39 inches, according to the Dodge City branch of the National Weather Service.
“In the middle part of April, we had an upper level coastal that came into the western part of the United States, closed off over the four corners area and then just gradually moved north into Colorado. That brought a tremendous amount of moisture into western Kansas,” said Larry Ruthi, meteorologist in charge at the Dodge City NWS.
Heavy rains soaked northwest Kansas from April 15 to 17, with 2 to 6 inches generally reported across the region and locally heavier amounts. The Community Collaborative Rain, Snow and Hail Network, known as CoCoRaHs, reported 7.33 inches in rural Ellis County and 8.56 inches in Trego County over those three days.
The effects of those rains were felt well beyond the spring season, however.
“That was a real game changer for the season,” Ruthi said. “That greened everything up, and with evapotranspiration, we continued to feed moisture into the atmosphere. That set the stage for most of the rest of the year to be above average on precip.”
Those heavy mid-April rains contributed to a ceiling collapse at Big Creek Crossing in Hays. An air conditioning unit above Payless Shoes crashed through the roof, severing a sprinkler line in the early morning of April 17. That severed line and the heavy rain caused flooding throughout the shopping mall. The entire mall was closed for several days, and stores that took the most damage — Payless, Vanity, Bling and Imperial Garden — were closed much longer as cleanup and repairs were made.
The increased precipitation also brought severe storms and flooding into summer. On July 13, windstorms caused widespread damage overnight. In the city of Hays, people woke up to find large limbs and even entire trees downed, blocking streets and damaging vehicles. Eastern Hays and Ellis County were without power.
After a two-week cleanup, city crews had hauled 700 truckloads of trees and limbs to the landfill.
The region saw slightly above normal precipitation through the entire summer, according to data from the NWS.
Another surge on Sept. 4 across Rooks, northern Ellis and Russell counties sent the Saline River out of its banks. Five to 7 inches of rain raised the river more than 6 feet.
Downstream from the rains in rural Russell County, a family had to call for rescue as floodwaters swept into their camp in the early morning hours.
Nicole Barrara told The Hays Daily News members of her family from Russell and Ellis counties had been camping over the Labor Day weekend on the river near her parents’ home northwest of Russell. An uncle alerted everyone to the rising water before dawn. Her brothers tried to get to the vehicles to get everyone to safety, but the water was already high enough the vehicles stalled.
Several adults were able to wade to shore with some of the children, but nine children and several adults climbed atop a camper as the water continued to rise. A cousin, Jack Brown of Gorham, was called and rushed to the scene with some friends and a boat. They rescued the children and adults from the camper just minutes before it was covered by floodwaters.
Ellis and Russell counties saw significant damage to rural roads from those floods and declared a state of local disaster.
Midwest Energy replaced 129 power poles damaged by severe weather in 2016 throughout northwest Kansas.
The increased moisture also helped keep the region from seeing temperature extremes that have occurred in recent years, Ruthi said.
“All that moisture in the air tends to make the temperatures a little bit less high but it keeps the low temperatures a little bit above average,” he said.
The ag research center at Hays recorded nine days with temperatures at or above 100 degrees in 2016.
“This compares to a long-term average of 16 and a maximum of 54 set back in 1936,” Ruthi said.
The warmest maximum temperature was 105 on July 23. On Dec. 17, the low in Hays was -16, the first subzero temperature since Jan. 1, 2015.
Snowfall for last winter, from October 2015 to April 2016, was 17.1 inches, equal to the average measured from 1981 to 2010, and the month with the most snow this year was February with 6.5 inches at the ag research center. A Feb. 2 storm that hit Hays forced business closings and the rescheduling of the Hays Area of Chamber of Commerce banquet. Semis were stacked up along side streets in Hays as icy conditions closed I-70 from the Colorado to Salina.