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What a new climate ‘normal’ looks like
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, May 10 indicates an expansion of extreme drought in our area and worsening conditions across the western two-thirds of the state in spite of the rainfall. The problem is the intensity of the drought. And keep in mind the spotty nature of the rainfall and how incredibly dry we are. It will take a lot to recharge the soil profile and the above normal temperatures aren’t helping. The six to ten-day outlook (May 18 to 22) indicates a 33 to 40% chance of above normal temperatures and 33 to 50% chance of below normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (May 20 to 26) indicates a 40 to 50% chance of above normal temperatures and near normal to slightly below normal precipitation. Most have enough moisture to have corn start and to help flowering wheat but the long-range forecast isn’t helping.

To say it’s been an interesting last few years in agriculture, or the world, is an understatement. It’s seems everyone, everywhere, wants a return to “normal.” Today, let’s discuss this regarding agriculture. What is normal? Will there be a return to normal? Will there be a new normal?

Merriam-Webster defines normal as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern: characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine or approximating the statistical average or norm.” There are many directions to explore here but let’s focus today on weather/climate. Climate is the long-term average set of atmospheric conditions of an area while weather defines the set of atmospheric conditions at a particular time and place. Simply, climate is what you expect and weather is what you actually get. So, climate tells a producer what possible crops can be grown in an area, and in general terms what yields might be. It provides livestock producers the same general information. The “weather” for a given growing seasons determines the actual output.  

The long-term weather averages are just that, averages. Add all the data up and divide by the number of data points. Our averages are 30-year rolling averages and our current averages are from 1991-2020. The trouble with averages is they mask the extremes. The average of 5 + 5 is the same as 10 + 0. Why does this matter? Our averages are changing slowly; however, the extremes are changing and producers will have to adapt and deal with it. And a slight change up or down in say the average temperature, here up, can have significant impacts on production.

Briefly, what appears to be changing?

• Windier conditions. So far in 2022, the state of Kansas has experienced more high wind warnings to this point than for any other recorded entire year. And the overall average wind speeds are increasing.

• Extremes in moisture on either end of the spectrum and a seeming shift in rainfall patterns.

• More extreme shifts in temperatures as has been quite evident this year.

We could go on, but the point is data is indicating and models predicting not only a change in weather but in our climate. 

Next week, how does Kansas agriculture adapt and thrive with a changing climate?

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or