Kansas Climate Profile

By | December 4, 2007

[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]

I. Summary for Policy Makers

On October 18, 2007, The Kansas Department of Health and Environment rejected a request to build two new 700-megawatt coal-fired electricity generating power plants, citing concerns over the contribution of the proposed plants’ carbon dioxide emissions to climate change and “the potential harm to our environment and health.”

In making this finding, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had to ignore all of the known climate history of the state of Kansas, established climate science as well as the climate model projections for the future climate of the state of Kansas. Both observations and projections clearly demonstrate that:

  • > – Kansans have neither experienced nor are predicted to experience negative effects from climate variations and trends
  • > – There have been no overall changes in temperatures during the past 75 years
  • > – Total precipitation has increased slightly, making more water available for all to use
  • > – The frequency and severity of drought has decreased
  • > – Kansan’s sensitivity to heat-waves has declined
  • > – The number of severe storms, such as tornadoes is relatively unchanged
  • > – “Tropical” diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, or West Nile Virus have been erroneously predicted to spread due to global warming
  • > – Future projections indicate that Kansas will be less impacted by rising global temperatures than any other state in the country

China alone opens a new coal-fired plant every 4 – 7 days, any Kansas-derived “savings” of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere will be made up in a matter of days, effectively exporting emissions and jobs overseas.

These facts make it inconceivable that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would, on spurious grounds of “climate change,” deny the application to add more generating power aimed towards reducing the cost and insuring an abundant future supply of electricity, prosperity and general well-being to Kansans.

II. Observed Climate Change in Kansas

A. Temperature

Averaged across the state of Kansas, the long-term annual temperature history shows a slightly upward trend over the past 112 years — the time since widespread records were first complied by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center — however, all of the temperature increase occurred more than 75 years ago, prior to the about 1930. Since then, from 1930 through 2006 there has actually been a slight decline in the statewide averaged temperature records, at a time when atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased.

Recently, Kansas has experienced a string of warm years beginning in 1998, but generally the annual temperature during this warm period has not been exceptional. While globally, it is often reported that the last 10 years were the hottest on record, in Kansas, the story is much different. Only 2 of the 10 hottest years on record statewide occurred within the past 50 years, while 8 of the state’s 10 all-time hottest years, including the 6 hottest years on record, occurred prior to 1956—more than a half-century year ago. Obviously, “global warming” has not had much of an effect on temperatures in Kansas.

Examining Kansas’ statewide temperature history since 1930 within the four seasons, one again finds no evidence of any “global warming” throughout any portion of the year. There has been a slight warming tendency during the spring season, but cooling tendencies dominate the summer and fall seasons, and there is little trend at all during the winter. Temperatures in recent years are unremarkable when set against the long-term temperature history of the state.

Further evidence of the lack of climate warming in Kansas was documented by Suckling and Mitchell (2000) who studied the spatial and temporal variation of the climate boundary in the central U.S. over the 100-year period 1900- to 1999. They found that, contrary to climate models and alarmist claims, a northward migration of warmer climate zones to central North America does not appear to be occurring. Instead, they show that the central U.S. – including Kansas – was warmer before an elevation of man-made greenhouse gases and cooler during the two decades of increasing CO2 levels.

B. Precipitation

Averaged across the state of Kansas for each of the past 112 years, statewide annual total precipitation exhibits an increasing trend amounting to about 10 percent more precipitation falling per year at the end of the record than at the beginning. More important than the long-term trend, the record of Kansas’ annual precipitation is dominated by year-to-year and decade-to-decade variability. During the wettest year in Kansas’ history, 1951, a total of 41.50 inches of precipitation fell, while just 5 years later, in 1956, the driest year on record, only 14.39 inches of precipitation fell. Recent annual totals show nothing unusual when compared to the observed historical record, having remained within a couple of inches of the long-term mean.

C. Drought

As is evident from Kansas’ long-term observed precipitation history, there are often strings of dry years, such as in the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s. Several dry years in a row can lead to widespread drought conditions.

However, also evident from Kansas’ precipitation history there has been a long-term upward trend in the total precipitation across the state. Consequently, the frequency and intensity of drought conditions across the state has decreased.[1] The Kansas PDSI history is also dominated by shorter term variations which largely reflect the state’s precipitation variability. Droughts in the mid-1930s and mid-1950s mark the most significant events of the past 112 years. Nothing in recent years has come close to these historic drought events.

A history of drought in Kansas can be traced back even further than we have direct rainfall measurements by analyzing information stored in annual tree ring patterns. For instance, Dr. Edward Cook and colleagues (Cook et al., 1999; 2004) were able to reconstruct a summertime PDSI record for central Kansas that extends back in time more than 1000 years. That paleoclimate moisture record indicates that alternating multi-decadal periods of wet and dry conditions have occurred with semi-regularity during the past millennium, emphasizing that droughts are a normal part of the region’s climate system. In fact, the reconstructed drought history indicates that there have been many droughts in Kansas’ past that have been far more severe and longer lasting than anything witnessed during the past century, long before CO2 levels rose. When such natural droughts recur in the future, there will be heard unschooled claims that they are induced by “global warming.” However, history shows drought has been for centuries a persistent, naturally occurring phenomenon in Kansas.

D. Floods

Just as Kansas has been parched by drought in the past, it has been deluged by floodwaters. In 1951, one of the most significant floods in U. S. history inundated much of northeast Kansas as the Kansas River surged over its banks and swamped Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and many smaller towns along the way. The 1951 mid-July flood was caused by rainfall exceeding 16 inches in some areas over the course of a week. At least 19 people were killed and 1,100 injured as flood waters covered more than 2 million acres. It also damaged or destroyed 45,000 homes and 17 major bridges causing about $2.5 billion (about $17 billion in 2000 dollars) in damages.[2]

As devastating as the 1951 flood was in northeastern Kansas, it wasn’t even the flood of record in those parts. The biggest flood in historical times along the Kansas River occurred in 1844. However, that flood occurred prior to widespread settlement of the region, resulting in little damage or loss of life. Other major flooding events occurred in 1785, 1903 and 1993—the year of the Great Mississippi River flood.

One thing a review of the history of flooding in Kansas clearly does not show is any increase in frequency or severity that could be related to “global climate change.” The figure below shows the annual peak flow along the Kansas River at the Topeka gauging station. The big floods of 1903, 1951, and 1993 stand out prominently, but notice that there is no trend towards more or greater events. Instead, major flooding events are a natural part of the history of Kansas and its climate. They have occurred in the past and they will undoubtedly occur again in the future, without regard to any trend in global climate.

E. Tornadoes

Lying mostly within “tornado alley,” Kansas ranks among the most twister-frequented states in the country.

Claims disingenuously asserting that the number of extreme storm events, such as tornadoes will increase as a result of global warming, pointing to recent increases in the occurrence of tornadoes in the United States. However, in the United States, as in Kansas, the recent increase in tornado observations can be explained by non-climate factors such as the expanded use of Doppler radar by the National Weather Service, an increase in the number of observers (or “storm chasers”), and an increase in the population density. Consequently, small tornadoes that were once missed are now being detected by radar and the larger observing network. The number of strong tornadoes across Kansas—those less likely to have ever been missed—has actually declined since 1950, indicating that the apparent increase in the occurrence of all tornadoes is simply a reflection of our ability to detect them, rather than a true increase in the actual number of tornadoes to hit Kansas.

Still, even though the number of tornadoes impacting Kansas is not increasing (or perhaps even decreasing), Kansas remains under a natural threat of tornado disasters as its history too vividly reminds us. Earlier this year, on May 4th, 2007, a violent F5 tornado (the strongest of all storms)—the first F5 storm to hit the United States in over 7 years—struck Greensburg, KS, head-on with winds over 200 mph. Most of town was destroyed, and 9 people were killed and more than 60 injured. But the Greensburg tornado was but one of several monster F5 tornadoes to have touched down in Kansas since 1950—all of which caused extensive damages and death. The worst of all was the F5 tornado that hit Udall, KS during the night of May 25, 1955 killing 80 people and destroying much the town, long before significant post-war CO2 enhancement.

Another devastating F5 tornado struck Kansas on June 8, 1966. This time, Topeka, KS was the target. A 22-mile long, ½ mile wide path of destruction passed through the heart of the city, leaving 16 dead and causing about $100 million in damages (in 1966 dollars), ranking it in the top-5 costliest tornadoes ever to strike the United States. Across the city, about 800 homes and buildings were completely destroyed and another 3,000 damaged, including the dome of the state capitol. Winds were estimated to have reached speeds of 250 mph.

Due to its geographical location within “tornado alley,” Kansas sees a high incidence of deadly and destructive tornadoes, and will undoubtedly continue to do so into the future. There is no indication that warmer climate has or will increase the severity or frequency of these extreme weather events.

F. World-wide statistics for disaster-related deaths

As for deaths from climate related events, local and outside activists opposing permitting of new Kansas coal-generation stand accused of overstating the dangers. Researchers have reported that the number of people killed each year by weather-related disasters is falling.[3]

Therefore, a central plank in the global warming argument – that it will result in a big increase in deaths from weather-related disasters – is undermined by the facts, that deaths from such disasters peaked in the 1920s and have been declining ever since.

Compared with the peak rate of deaths from weather-related events in the 1920s of nearly 500,000 a year, the death toll during the period 2000-06 averaged 19,900. This number is even more impressive considering world population exposure has increased many fold from population levels in the 1920s.

The number of deaths had fallen sharply because of better warning systems, improved flood defenses and other measures. Poor countries remained most vulnerable.

III. Public Health Impacts

A. Temperature-related Mortality

An oft-repeated mantra is that “global warming” will lead to an increase in the number of people who will die during summer heat waves. However, the best science proves otherwise, demonstrating that instead of simply dying, people are better adapting to hot conditions.

A number of studies have shown that during the past several decades, the population in major U.S. cities has grown better adapted, and thus less sensitive, to the effects of excessive heat events (Davis et al., 2003ab). Each of the bars of the illustration below represents the annual number of heat-related deaths in 28 major cities across the United States. There should be three bars for each city, representing, from left to right, the decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990. For nearly all cities, the number of heat-related deaths is declining (the bars are get smaller), and in many cities in the south and southeastern United States, there is no bar at all in the 1990s, indicating that there were no statistically distinguishable heat-related deaths during that decade (the most recent one studied). In other words, the population of those cities has become nearly completely adapted to heat waves. This adaptation is most likely a result of improvements in medical technology, access to air-conditioned homes, cars, and offices, increased public awareness of potentially dangerous weather situations, and proactive responses of municipalities during extreme weather events.

As is the case for most cities in the Midwestern U.S., the pattern of heat-related mortality over time exhibited in Kansas City (indicated by KSC in the figure above)—the city in the Davis et al. studies that is most representative of the conditions in major Kansas cities—shows that the population has become better adapted to high temperature conditions. In fact, in most central Midwestern cities, including Kansas City, there were no statistically distinguishable heat-related deaths during the decade of the 1990s (the most recent one studied)—meaning that the population of those cities has become nearly completely adapted to heat waves.

In general, the overall pattern of the distribution of heat-related mortality in cities across the United States indicates that in locations where extremely high temperatures are more commonplace, such as along the southern tier states, the prevalence of heat-related mortality is much lower than in the regions of the country where extremely high temperatures are somewhat rarer (e.g. the northeastern U.S.). This provides another demonstration that populations adapt to their prevailing climate conditions. Even if temperatures warm naturally in the future and excessive heat events become more common, there is every reason to expect that adaptations will take place to lessen their impact on the general population.

All told, the total annual number of weather-related deaths is quite small compared to the annual overall mortality. For instance, generally in the United States the annual mortality rate is less than 1% per year, meaning that about 8,000 to 9,000 people die each year out of every million persons. In contrast, the net effect of the weather in a typical year is about 1,000 times less, or fewer than ~10 deaths per million people (Davis et al., 2004). So, despite proclamations to the contrary, the weather and climate have only an vanishingly small impact on overall mortality when the population at large is considered. This will likely remain true into the future, no matter how the climate evolves.

B. “Tropical” Disease

Tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, or West Nile Virus have been erroneously predicted to spread due to global warming. In fact, they are related less to climate than to living conditions, and are best controlled by direct application of sound, known public health policies.

The two tropical diseases most commonly cited as spreading as a result of global warming are malaria and dengue fever. However, these are not really “tropical” at all and thus are not as closely linked to climate as many people suggest. For example, malaria epidemics occurred as far north as Archangel, Russia, in the 1920s, and in the Netherlands. Malaria was common in most of the United States prior to the 1950s (Reiter, 1996). In the late 1800s, a period when it was demonstrably colder in the United States than it is today, malaria was endemic in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains—a region stretching from the Gulf Coast all the way up into Northern Minnesota—including the entirety of Kansas. In 1878, about 100,000 Americans were infected with malaria; about one-quarter of them died. By 1912, malaria was already being brought under control, yet persisted in the southeastern United States well into the 1940s. By the mid-to-late 1950s, malaria was effectively eradicated from the United States. This occurred not because of climate change, but because of technological and medical advances. Better anti-malaria drugs, air-conditioning, the use of screen doors and windows, and the elimination of urban overpopulation brought about by the development of suburbs and automobile commuting were largely responsible for the decline in malaria (Reiter, 1996; Reiter, 2001). Today, the mosquitoes that spread malaria are still widely present in the Unites States, but the transmission cycle has been disrupted and the pathogen leading to the disease is absent – during a time global temperatures were rising. Climate change is not involved.

The effect of technology is also clear from statistics on dengue fever outbreaks, another mosquito-borne disease. In 1995, a dengue pandemic hit the Caribbean and Mexico. More than 2,000 cases were reported in the Mexican border town of Reynosa. But in the town of Hidalgo, Texas, located just across the river, there were only seven reported cases of the disease (Reiter, 1996). This is just not an isolated example. Data collected over the past several decades has shown a similarly large disparity between the high number of cases of the disease in northern Mexico and the rare occurrences in the southwestern United States (Reiter, 2001). There is virtually no difference in climate between these two locations, but a world of difference in infrastructure, wealth, and technology. City layout, population density, building structure, window screens, air-conditioning and personal behavior are all factors that play a large role in the transmission rates (Reiter, 2001).

Another “tropical” disease currently being falsely linked to climate change is West Nile Virus. The claim is that a warming climate is allowing the mosquito that carries West Nile Virus to spread northward and into Kansas. However, this is as demonstrably absurd as similar claims about other vector-borne diseases such malaria and dengue fever.

West Nile Virus was introduced to the United States through the port of New York City in the summer of 1999. Since its introduction, it has spread rapidly across the country, reaching the West Coast by 2002 and has now been documented in every state as well as most provinces of Canada. This is not a sign that the U.S. and Canada are progressively warming. Rather, it is a sign that the existing environment is naturally primed for the virus. Put differently, this more a travel and immigration concern that a climate one.

The vector for West Nile is mosquitoes not mosquito. Wherever there is a suitable host mosquito population, an outpost for West Nile virus can be established. It is not just one mosquito species that is involved. The disease has been isolated in over 40 mosquito species found throughout the United States.[4] So the simplistic, alarmist justification that “climate change” is allowing a West Nile carrying mosquito species to move into Kansas is simply preposterous. The already-resident mosquito populations of Kansas are appropriate hosts for the West Nile virus—as they are in every other state.

Clearly, as is evident from the establishment of West Nile virus in every state in the contiguous U.S., climate has little, or nothing, to do with its spread. Logically consider that the annual average temperature from the southern part of the United States to the northern part spans a range of more than 40ºF, so clearly the virus exists in vastly different climates. Again, West Nile virus was introduced in New York City—hardly the warmest portion of the country—and has spread westward and southward into both warmer and colder and wetter and drier climates. This didn’t happen because climate changes allowed its spread, but rather because the virus was introduced to a place that was ripe for its existence—basically any location with a resident mosquito population.

Thus, West Nile virus now exists in Kansas merely because the extant climate/ecology of Kansas is one in which the virus can thrive. The reason that it was not found in Kansas in the past was simply because it had not been introduced. Climate change in Kansas, which is demonstrably small compared to the natural variability of the state’s climate history, has absolutely nothing to do with it. Neither the number of coal-generation plants nor swings in average have any effect on West Nile presence.

It is worth restating that since all vector-borne diseases spreads in wide ranges of both temperature and climatic regimes, one could raise or lower the average annual temperature in Kansas by many degrees or vastly change the precipitation regime and not make a bit of difference in the aggression of the West Nile Virus. Science-challenged claims to the contrary are not only ignorant but also dangerous, serving to distract from real epidemiological diagnosis which allow health officials critical information for protecting Kansas citizens.

IV. Future Climate Projections

Attempting the make projections of the future climate is fraught with difficulties[5], both from an incomplete scientific knowledge of the complexity of interacting physical processes, as well as the large inherent uncertainty in attempting to forecast economic activity and technology across all countries of the world and how those factors contribute to future levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The task is made several times more challenging when attempting to make projections at regional and local levels where the scale becomes too small to adequately/accurately model. Therefore, future climate scenarios on the level of the state of Kansas need to be weighed against all the uncertainties that go into them.

Even if one were determined to believe invalidated model projections, the future climate change projections made from the latest “state-of-the-art” regional climate models for Kansas and the Midwestern United States, are quite modest, and anything but alarming.

A team of scientists led by Zaitao Pan of St. Louis University recently concluded a modeling study using a regional-scale climate model aimed at examining how the climate of the central United States may change in the future. What they found was a “warming hole” centered over Kansas, indicating that future temperature change there would be very small. Further, they found this “warming hole” to be the result of an interaction of local and regional atmospheric circulation features that are too small to be adequately modeled in most global climate models. Thus, examining the projections from global climate models and focusing in on Kansas would produce inaccurate and misleading conclusions.

When Pan et al. (2004) move past flawed modeling to real climate observations, they report that:

In the last 25 years of the 20th century most major land regions experienced a summer warming trend, but the central U.S. cooled by 0.2–0.8 K. In contrast most climate projections using GCMs show warming for all continental interiors including North America. We examined this discrepancy by using a regional climate model and found a circulation-precipitation coupling under enhanced greenhouse gas concentrations that occurs on scales too small for current GCMs to resolve well. Results show a local minimum of warming in the central U.S. (a ‘‘warming hole’’) associated with changes in low-level circulations that lead to replenishment of seasonally depleted soil moisture, thereby increasing late-summer evapotranspiration and suppressing daytime maximum temperatures. These regional-scale feedback processes may partly explain the observed late 20th century temperature trend in the central U.S. and potentially could reduce the magnitude of future greenhouse warming in the region. [Emphasis added]

Graphically, the results of Pan et al. are striking in their illustration that future temperatures in Kansas and the surrounding region of the central United States should change to only a small degree under conditions of rising greenhouse gases.

Projected change in summertime maximum temperatures across the United States from the 1ate 20th century to the mid-21st century. Notice that the region of the least temperature rise (less than 1ºC in the next 50 years) is centered over the state of Kansas (source: Pan et al., 2004).

In layman terms, neither Pan nor anyone else knows what future Kansas climates will look like.

Policy considerations built on such faulty guesswork have straw as their foundation.

V. Emissions “Savings”

Since China alone opens a new coal-fired plant every

4 -7 days, any Kansas-derived “savings” of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere will be made up in a matter of days, effectively exporting emissions and jobs overseas.

VI. Summary

Obviously, the data contained within this report—both the actual observed climate history of Kansas, as well as state-of-the-art projections of the future climate of Kansas—make it clear that the officials at the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment made their decision to reject the permits for the two new coal-fired power plants contrary to the best available science.

We have detailed observations illustrating that to a large degree that climate variability from year-to-year and decade-to-decade plays a more major role in Kansas’ climate than any long-term trends. Such short-term variability will likely continue dominating Kansas’ climate into the future.

On the timescale of the past 75 years, Kansas’ climate shows no statically significant warming trend in statewide average annual temperature, while statewide total annual precipitation has increased about 10% leading to a decrease in the frequency and/or severity of droughts. Clearly, these trends indicate that local and regional processes have been more important than global ones in determining local climate variations.

The same holds true for extreme weather and weather-related events—droughts, floods, tornadoes—exhibiting no trends that could be related to “global warming.” Instead, as historical records have shown that these types of events have marked Kansas’ past, and will continue to do so into the future.

Also, the climate is shown to have little, if any, impact on the overall health of Kansas’ population. Instead, application of direct measures aimed at combating the negative impacts of heat waves and vector-borne diseases prove far and away to be the most efficient and effective methods at improving the public health.

Taken together, overwhelming observational evidence demonstrates that “global climate changes” are having no detectable (if any) impact on the lives of Kansans and future projections strongly suggest for a continuation of the same.

VII. References:

Cook, E.R., Woodhouse, C.A., Eakin, C.M., Meko, D.M., and Stahle, D.W.. 2004. Long-Term Aridity Changes in the Western United States. Science, 306, 1015-1018.

Cook, E.R., Meko, D.M., Stahle, D.W. and Cleaveland, M.K. 1999. Drought reconstructions for the continental United States. Journal of Climate, 12, 1145-1162.

Davis, R.E., et al., 2003a. Decadal changes in summer mortality in the U. S. cities. International Journal of Biometeorology, 47, 166-175.

Davis, R.E., et al., 200b. Changing heat-related mortality in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111, 1712-1718.

Davis et al., 2004. Seasonality of climate-human mortality relationships in US cities and impacts of climate change. Climate Research, 26, 61-76.

Pan, Z., et al., 2004. Altered hydrologic feedback in a warming climate introduces a “warming hole.” Geophysical Research Letters, 31, L17109, doi: 10.1029/2004GL020528.

Reiter, P., 1996. Global warming and mosquito-borne disease in the USA. The Lancet, 348, 662.

Zucker, J.R., 1996. Changing Patterns of Autochthonous Malaria Transmission in the United States: A Review of Recent Outbreaks. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2, 37-43

VIII. Some Essential Readings in Climate Science

Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Why Has “Global Warming” Become Such A Passionate Subject?

Current Issues in Climate Science: Focus on the Poles

Carbon Dioxide and Global Change: Separating Scientific Fact from Personal Opinion

Al Gore’s United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Testimony

Hurricane Threat to Florida

Climate Change or Demographics?

“Consensus? What “Consensus”?
Among Climate Scientists, The Debate Is Not Over

The Myth of Dangerous Human Caused Climate Change

35 Inconvenient Truths: The errors in Al Gore’s movie

Peer Review? What Peer Review?
Failures of scrutiny in the UN’s Fourth Assessment Report


What is Wrong with the IPCC?