National long-term weather forecasts are calling for a warmer than normal fall and winter in Kansas. Yet, snow has already fallen this year to the north and west - as close as the Rockies and western Nebraska.
"Long-term forecasts are always 'iffy,' especially for the central United States. At that, they´re nothing more than the expected seasonal averages," says Mary Knapp, State of Kansas Climatologist. "Think about it. When a period includes enough unusually warm weather, it can have some bitter cold, too, and still average out above the seasonal norm."
History provides clues about the extremes that are possible, Knapp says. For example, Kansas had warmer than average winter temperatures over the last dozen years, but still produced fairly impressive snowfalls as early as October.
A blizzard struck northwest Kansas Oct. 22, 1995. Then, an early snowstorm hit the eastern part of the state Oct. 22, 1996 - exactly one year later. Both storms included some thundersnow. Their accumulation totals ranged from 3 to 11 inches of snow.
"The blizzard most of us now use as a benchmark, though, started about 10 years ago on Oct. 25, 1997," Knapp says. "Winds of 50 to 60 miles an hour wiped out our visibility and produced wind chills of 20 degrees below zero. The snowfall ranged from 10 to 24 inches.
"Given that combination, more than 35,000 Kansas cattle died where they stood. Snowdrifts from 6 to 10 feet high were common. Some drifts reached 25 feet, and they occasionally created indoor drifts that were 1- to 2-feet high inside home attics," she adds.
Because Kansans had listened to forecasts and prepared, however, the storm caused no human fatalities, she explains: "Kansans can never afford to take the weather for granted."
Knapp heads the official Weather Data Library, housed with Kansas State University Research and Extension. The library´s fact-filled Web site is at www.oznet.ksu.edu/wdl.