Farm Progress

Climate change is a real thing, no matter the cause

In 1990, colleagues told me that brutal cold or snow storms around Halloween are ‘normal.’

Walt Davis 1, Editor

November 30, 2017

3 Min Read
CLIMATE CHANGE PROOF: Yes, the Kansas climate is changing. Exhibit A: Geraniums and petunias blooming on my front porch the Sunday after Thanksgiving. A few decades ago, a Halloween ice storm or snow storm was common, followed by a couple of weeks of fall weather and then the onset of winter.

There’s a raging debate over the reality and the particulars of climate change, or global warming, or climate variability or whatever else the catchword of the day might be.

I’d like to offer Exhibit A for the argument that fall is warmer, later, than it used to be in southern Kansas: Petunias and germaniums blooming in a planter on my front porch on the Sunday AFTER Thanksgiving — and vinca vine, snapdragons and sweet Williams flourishing in the flower bed on the same day.

I might add that I have similar photos from last year.

I also have photos of my kids bundled up in parkas with cleats on their boots to trick-or-treat during the Halloween ice storm of 1990, our first year in Wichita. And in snow boots on our second Halloween in 1991.

True, in those years and for a decade after, we had a week or so of really nasty weather around Halloween followed by a couple of weeks of “Indian summer” days of warm afternoons and chilly evenings and early mornings. Gradually, the “Halloween freeze” has crept later and later, and the arrival of winter has pushed into early to mid-December.

This is a major change. Without attempting to weigh in on “why” or “what caused it”, I’m on the side of “it’s real.” This is happening and we’ve got to figure out what it means for farmers and ranchers as they decide when, and what, to plant.

Far from being a major disaster (which it may well be on the east and west coasts), this could actually be a pretty good thing for Kansas — a longer growing season, more cropping choices, milder winters for cattle and other livestock to endure.

What has come with it so far, however, is not just warm, but dry. And dry is not good, especially when preceded by strong vegetative growth well into December. That is a formula for late winter wildfires, especially when the winds of late February and March roll in right on schedule.

This year, October rainfall was OK in some parts of the state and absent in most of the rest. November rainfall was virtually non-existent all over the place, totaling less than a quarter-inch for the month in Dodge City, Garden City, Medicine Lodge, Wichita, Chanute and Salina.

Aside from what this means for the winter wheat crop, if similar dry conditions continue through the winter — as they did in 2015 and 2016 — the risk goes up of wildfire on the order of Anderson Creek in 2016 and the devastating Starbuck fire earlier this year.

The point is that the cause doesn’t matter — our climate is changing. It affects all of us and we all have a stake in what to do to prepare. For starters, that means beefing up our rural firefighting infrastructure, communication systems and equipment, as well as our ability to quickly communicate with outlying fire departments, even in neighboring states.

I give kudos to the state legislature in 2017. After years of ignoring the importance of reciprocal aid agreements with our neighbors in Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri, legislators moved within days of the Starbuck wildfire to secure those agreements.

I give less credit for appropriations for rural fire departments to help them secure equipment and pay personnel to have at least a skeleton staff on duty to respond immediately during peak threats. That isn’t looking likely. It didn’t happen after Anderson Creek. It didn’t happen after Starbuck. And if having 700,000 acres of the state burn doesn’t spur action, what does it take?

We are seating a brand new legislature in January, one that heavily represents urban areas in the northeast and the Wichita metropolitan area population centers. It is more important than ever for the rest of Kansas to remind its government of the value of agriculture to the economy and the vital need to support agriculture through changing times.

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