Thursday, August 9, 2012

Broken Record

News reports have now made it official; July 2012 was the hottest July on record in North America.  I don't know about you, the broader audience that is reading this blog, but I expected that the record would be broken.  Certainly the heat and drought here in Kansas have exceeded my usual dismal expectations.  I've found myself taking numerous pictures of rain clouds and judging storm directions on radar to the detriment of the rest of my life, and I've been disappointed in most cases to see the rain veer away from Manhattan.  I can't count the times when I've actually seen actual rain falling down from a quarter mile distant vantage where I remained dry and sun-blasted.  Here, for example, is a photo of a storm that I took on my way into work on July 12th, missing Manhattan about a mile to the east:

Of greater interest to me is what all this means for the future and what it tells us about "global warming."  The previous record we broke in July here in Kansas was set in the Dust-bowl year of 1935.  So we have at least, with the reputed additional effects of global warming, broke a record set some 77 years ago before anyone even dreamed of climate change.  Temperature records in the US have only been kept since 1885, a mere 50 years earlier than the 1935 records.  How can we possibly say that this July was the hottest EVER?  The hottest on record in the short range of human experience yes, but the hottest EVER?  And the "hot" records are being set here in North America.  The same newspaper edition that announced the hottest July ever contained a story about a rare snowfall in Johannesburg South Africa; a place where it snows only once every 20 years on average. 

Certainly, Kansas has had previous, and will have in the future, dry years and windy years and hot years and cold years.  Horticulture in Kansas will always try the patience of gardener and wife.  Isaac Goodnow, a co-founder of Kansas State University, moved to Kansas and reached the Manhattan area in April of 1855, long before official records of temperature and climate were recorded.  His diary from that year states "The nights are exceedingly windy and dusty", a statement that wouldn't shock anyone living here 157 years later.  He also noted that he "have had to spend much time almost everyday in encouraging the young men and keeping them from going home.” I, for one, can easily sympathize with that last entry for there are many times this summer when I've stood in my garden and been tempted to chuck it all and move to a better climate.

 In the meantime, the drought has been bad this summer, but I'm encouraged that the prairie looks approximately the same as it did early in June, as shown in the photo above.  We've had over 40 days of 100F+ degree temperatures and less than a total of 2 inches of rain in that entire period, but the prairie is holding its own, as most of my garden seems to as well.  My assessment of my garden, of course, is still limited by a brief examination at 5:30 a.m. while I run around frantically with watering cans, but I will take "holding its own" as a positive until I see September begin to usher back more temperate weather. 


  1. I lived in Lenexa for two years from 2007-2009. I've always been a VA girl so it was quite the change of pace, weather-wise. I've never seen such dramatic weather shifts, the sky literally rolling in black and green with fierce clouds and tearing winds.

    It's been horribly hot and dry here in Northern VA too. I hold out hope that this is a aberration and not a sign of things to come in future years.

  2. It's great to see someone talk about warming and climate,change and put it into a broader historical perspective.

  3. I feel for anyone having to live through a drought. Glad to hear you're holding your own. I think part of the reason we get so concerned about the weather is because it's out of our control. Drought and high temperatures are not just uncomfortable - they're devastating, and there's not much we can do but hope.


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