Progress in Kansas

Blacking Our Own Eye

a Condensation of a Paper Delivered Before
the Kansas Academy of Science by S. D. Flora,
Metereologist, U. S. Weather Bureau, Topeka

     MORE erroneous statements have been circulated over the country about the weather and climate of Kansas than that of almost any other state. This tendency to exaggeration and to put our worst foot foremost probably dates back to the covered-wagon period.

     The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act brought a flood of early settlers, fired with a religious fervor to make Kansas a free state, and the next rush occured during the period of unrest immediately following the Civil War. A very large per cent of these emigrants were poorly equipped to contend with an unknown climate and unbroken prairies -- conditions quite different from those to which they were accustomed. The result was much suffering and privation, and thousands of these settlers were forced to return to their original homes in the East. Naturally, they laid their failure to an unfavorable climate and bolstered up this idea by exaggerated accounts of what they had experienced.

     Modern Kansans seem to have inherited this tendency to stress the unfavorable and striking features of Kansas weather and climate, while in most other states such things are either ignored or suppressed from outside circulation. As a result, such terms as "droughty Kansas" and "Kansas cyclone" have become almost an idiom in the spoken language of the country. This is by no means the only state that suffers from droughts, tornadoes, grasshppers, cold waves, and blighting summer heat, but we seem to advertise them more.

     Reliable statistics tell of our great crops of wheat -- the finest hard wheat in the world -- of corn, alfalfa, and live stock that Kansas produces, but we seldom see anything in print about the bountiful rains and sunshine with which the state is favored in the growing season, about the exhilarating qualities of our climate, especially in the western counties, or about our wonderful brand of Indian summer weather in the autumn, which is equalled in few parts of the world. Also, the fact that our winters are milder, drier, and more nearly free from snowfall than those of the states to the east and north is seldom mentioned or even realized.

     Detailed weather records are now available for every part of Kansas. Many unsuspected and surprising facts about Kansas climate and weather have been established by this mass of data. Probably the most outsanding is that during the growing season Kansas is one of the most favored of all states when it comes to rainfall, and along with this we have more sunshiny days than most states -- a combination that favors abundant crop growth.

     In the winter season, when crops are dormant, nature seems to hoard our precipatation and then, as if to make amends for being stingy, gives us from 71 to 78 per cent of the year's total fall in the six crop-growing months, April to September, inclusive.

     As a result there are no other states in the country, except a few along the Gulf coast that, taken individually, receive as much rainfall during those six crop-growing months as the eastern third of Kansas.

     Even the middle third of our state receives approximately 20 inches in these six months, which is within 2 inches of the amount that falls in the same period over Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and the New England states.

     The western third of Kansas, once considered part of "The Great American Desert," has an average fall of 15 inches for this period, which almost equals the corresponding amounts in Michigan and Wisconsin, and is approximately three-fourths of the average for Iowa for those months.

     Normal temperatures over Kansas are almost ideal for corn, Kansas owes its prominence as a wheat state largely to the fact that this crop matures here before the heat of July and also to the absence of excessive soil moisture in winter, which helps minimize heaving. Also, our generous sunshine, even in winter months, is a help to wheat.

     Recent investigations by Mr. J. B. Kincer, chief of the division of Climate and Crop Weather of the Weather Bureau, indicate that for once the old settlers are right in claiming our winters are getting milder. For a period of 40 to 60 years there has been a noticeable tendency towards milder winters, not only in Kansas but over the entire eastern part of the United States. The reason for this moderation of winter weather is not known, nor do we know whether it will continue or perhaps a swing toward colder winters may come soon.

     Mr. Kincer has found that each inch of rainfall in Kansas, from June to August, earns 2.2 bushels of corn to the acre; at least this holds good for the past 20 years. Farmers of Kansas have grown, on the average, for the past 10 years, 5,500,000 acres of corn annually which, multiplied by 2.2 gives a total of 12,000,000; so one good rain in Kansas during the corn growing season has made for the farmers of the state, at the average price of corn during the past 10 years, more than $8,000,000.

     Digressing for a moment from the value of rain to crops, did you ever stop to consider the enormous amount of water that Mother Nature pours out in one rain? Kincer has computed that, in the case of Kansas, one inch of rain over the entire state means nearly 6,000,000,0000 tons of water. Suppose you count tons of water at the rate of 150 a minute, 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year without stopping day or night. At this rate how long would it take to count this six billion tons? Don't try it, for you would be counting for the next 75 years.

     Forecasting accurately weather conditions for a year, a season, or even a month in advance for Kansas would mean millions of dollars in the pockets of Kansas farmers and, incidentally, help all of us. So far this problem of forecasting, even in a general way, the weather for a season in advance has baffled scientists, but we are far from admitting it cannot be solved.

     We have made a few discoveries along this line, some of them very significant and helpful.

     In the 10 instances out of 14 on our 47-year record, when the average rainfall in June was an inch or more in excess of normal, the July following has also been wet. In the 11 instances out of 15 when our rainfall in June was an inch or more deficient, the rainfall for July was also deficient.

     Records show that 9 times out of 16 a deficiency of any amount in July rainfall in Kansas has been followed by a corn crop below the average, and 6 times out of 7 a wet July has been followed by corn crop above the average. These statements apply to the state a whole. They could probably be worked out more definitely by splitting the state into sections.

     The significance of this relation between July rainfall and corn yields begins to appear when we consider that a marked abnormality in temperature in June is more than likely to continue through July and that July weather determines the corn crop. It is possible using this line of investigation, to state with considerable degree of assurance by the end of June whether the Kansas corn crop will be above or below the average, though we know that hot, dry weather in June seldom of itself, hurts corn materially.

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