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  4. »eUpdate 915 July 14th, 2022»Kansas weather history: Looking back at two record-setting summers

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Department of Agronomy

Kansas State University

1712 Claflin Rd.

2004 Throckmorton PSC

Manhatan, KS 66506

785-532-6101

agronomy@ksu.edu

Extension Agronomy

Kansas weather history: Looking back at two record-setting summers

Mid-July is the midpoint of meteorological summer. On average, this is the hottest time of year in Kansas. As with any year, the focus of heat varies in time and place with most years featuring a hot spell of some kind. However, there are two summers in the Kansas climate record that were brutally hot and extremely dry, which still hold significant records over 80 years later. Even more noteworthy, these two summers occurred only two years apart during the Dust Bowl era, in 1934 and 1936.

The period June 1 through August 31, termed “meteorological summer”, normally averages 11.4 inches of statewide precipitation. In the summer of 1934, Kansas only averaged 5.25 inches of moisture statewide. This was the second driest summer on record at the time (records began in 1895), behind only 1913 (4.18”). Then 1936 came along with only 3.25” of summer precipitation. That year still stands as the driest summer on record. As for temperatures, the summer of 1934 was hotter (average of 83.2°, 6.4° above normal) than 1936 (82.0°), but they both still rank first and second on the list of hottest summers.

Snowden (“S. D.”) Flora was head of the Topeka office of the U.S. Weather Bureau from 1917 to 1949. He was responsible for writing Kansas’ narratives for the monthly Climatological Data publication. Some excerpts from 1934 and 1936:

Summer of 1934

“Record breaking heat and a pronounced shortage of moisture made this one of the most disastrous years for crops ever known in Kansas. It also established a new record for number of deaths due to excessive heat.”

“Corn… was practically ruined as far as a yield of grain was concerned, and much of it was so badly damaged it was not fit as fodder for winter feeding… Pastures were dried up and burned brown by the heat... Shortage of rough feed forced great numbers of livestock to market prematurely.”

“On July 13 a reading of 119° was recorded at Lincoln which exceeded by 3° any authentic high temperature record ever before made in the state.”

Summer of 1936

“(July) was the hottest month ever recorded over Kansas, except July, 1934, and broke all existing high temperature records in most places… the highest reported was 121° on the 18th at Fredonia and on the 24th near Alton which exceeds by 2° any authentic temperature record ever made in the state.”

“Corn, which had generally been damaged beyond recovery during July… dried up and was extensively cut for such fodder and silage as it would furnish. In many eastern sections, grasshoppers devoured the leaves before corn could be cut… Water for livestock became very scarce over most of the eastern half of the state…  Some wheat was sown in the northwestern counties but grasshoppers ate the crop as fast as it came up.”


Comparing 1934 and 1936

Which of these two summers was worse?  It’s tough to answer this question subjectively, so let’s take an objective approach and look at some summary statistics for both years. We can evaluate each summer by its warmest afternoon high temperatures, warmest overnight low temperatures, and total precipitation.

Both 1934 and 1936 were unprecedented with extreme summer conditions. With respect to afternoon high temperatures (Table 1), 1936 generally had the higher extremes, as well as more 100° and 110° days (the shaded cells in Tables 1-3 indicate the more extreme values between the two years at each location). In both 1934 and 1936, roughly half of the 92 days in meteorological summer had highs at or above 100 degrees.


Table 1. Comparative afternoon high temperature data for ten Kansas cities during the summers of 1934 and 1936. Data from NWS COOP.

 

June 1-August 31

1934

June 1-August 31

1936

Hottest Temperature

Number of days ≥ 100°

Number of days ≥ 110°

Hottest Temperature

Number of days ≥ 100°

Number of days ≥ 110°

Manhattan

115

61

23

116

53

13

Topeka

112

47

8

114

54

9

Olathe

110

40

2

111

47

2

Chanute

111

41

1

116

49

11

Salina

113

56

17

118

57

18

Wichita

109

39

0

114

47

9

Hays

117

49

9

116

52

11

Goodland

108

35

0

110

39

3

Dodge City

109

42

0

109

36

0

Garden City

113

51

6

107

39

0

AVERAGE

 

46

7

 

47

8

 

Overnight low temperatures often get the focus due to significant upward trends in recent decades. They also significantly impact health during heat waves with the human body unable to recover and prepare for the heat the next day. 1934 averaged more days with lows of 70° or above, but at the higher 80° threshold, 1934 and 1936 were nearly the same, with around 9 out of 92 days remaining above 80 degrees at night.


Table 2. Comparative overnight low temperature data for ten Kansas cities during the summers of 1934 and 193. Data from NWS COOP.

 

June 1-August 31

1934

June 1-August 31

1936

Warmest Overnight Temperature

Number of days ≥ 70°

Number of days ≥ 80°

Warmest Overnight Temperature

Number of days ≥ 70°

Number of days ≥ 80°

Manhattan

87

55

23

88

40

11

Topeka

85

56

13

85

51

18

Olathe

84

52

5

85

53

10

Chanute

86

58

8

83

56

9

Salina

85

58

19

87

56

12

Wichita

84

68

21

86

62

24

Hays

80

42

2

82

34

3

Goodland

77

15

0

74

9

0

Dodge City

81

54

3

81

43

1

Garden City

79

33

0

78

15

0

AVERAGE

 

49

9

 

42

9

 

The low temperatures at night were likely influenced by more precipitation during the summer of 1934. Table 3 evaluates the total summer precipitation of both years, the number of days with beneficial moisture (greater than or equal to a quarter inch) and the number of days without precipitation. The summer of 1936 was drier overall in the totals column, had less days of beneficial rainfall and more days without any rainfall. As a result, the temperatures had a larger daily diurnal swing in 1936, typical of a drier environment. While ending up warmer with afternoon maximum temperatures, the atmosphere cooled off quickly at night with lower dewpoints.


Table 3. Comparative precipitation data for ten Kansas cities during the summers of 1934 and 1936. Data from NWS COOP.

Precipitation Totals (in.) and Days with Beneficial Moisture and without Precipitation

 

June 1-August 31

1934

June 1-August 31

1936

Total Precipitation

Days with

≥ 0.25”

Days with No

Precipitation

Total Precipitation

Days with

≥ 0.25”

Days with No

Precipitation

Manhattan

3.54”

5

76

4.72”

4

83

Topeka

7.58”

9

69

2.60”

3

82

Olathe

4.98”

7

73

1.77”

3

81

Chanute

8.29”

7

77

3.43”

4

87

Salina

6.74”

8

73

2.48”

2

76

Wichita

3.93”

6

74

1.29”

2

85

Hays

8.47”

10

66

3.60”

5

79

Goodland

6.17”

10

71

3.71”

2

77

Dodge City

3.01”

4

72

3.39”

3

80

Garden City

2.14”

3

80

3.54”

4

82

AVERAGE

4.89”

7

73

3.05”

3

81

 

So, which summer was harder to endure and more extreme?  The year 1934 was the first occurrence of such an extreme summer, which up to that point had been unprecedented. Increased moisture kept temperatures warmer and night and likely resulted in increased humidity despite cooler afternoons. Meanwhile, 1936 was much drier and despite much warmer temperatures, cooled off more at night with likely more tolerable conditions. Also, with 1934 fresh on the minds of Kansans who had experienced it just two years prior, they likely had developed coping strategies making it more tolerable too.

Will history repeat itself?

The biggest question on many Kansans’ minds is, will we see a repeat of the Dust Bowl? Precipitation already received this summer (2022) in Manhattan, Salina, and Wichita will prevent those locations from being the driest on record. However, much of the remainder of the state still has a chance to be record dry. Additionally, while we have had warm temperatures, we are behind on reaching the 100° mark and highest maximums are still lower than previous records. Hopefully timely moisture and moderated temperatures can develop before the end of summer – but for now, it appears likely the heat and dryness is on through July. Let’s hope it is nowhere near as extreme as either 1934 or 1936!

 

 

Matthew Sittel, Assistant State Climatologist
msittel@ksu.edu

Christopher “Chip” Redmond, Kansas Mesonet Manager
christopherredmond@k-state.edu