December 2021 was the hottest on record in Kansas and Missouri – by far
Kansas and Missouri recorded their hottest average December temperatures on record last month, according to data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Average temperatures during the last half of 2021 were higher than they have ever been in both states – and across the country. Meanwhile, despite a devastating cold snap that forced power outages across the Midwest, February’s average temperature didn’t put it in the top five coldest of either state.
Data from the Climate Divisional Dataset, which displays climate information from 1895, follows research that shows average temperatures are rising during all seasons in the Midwest – winter temperatures are rising the fastest.
“We’re just not as cold as we used to be, and December kind of took that and took it to the extreme,” said Chip Redmond, assistant meteorologist at the University’s Weather Data Library. of Kansas State and director of the Mesonet, a network of environmental monitoring stations across the state.
Redmond said the single warm month could not be directly linked to climate change as the weather is highly variable, but it is remarkable how much the average temperature has increased.
According to NOAA, Decembers in Kansas are warming by 0.3 degrees each decade, while average annual temperatures are increasing by 0.1 degrees. There’s almost no pattern in summer temperatures, said Tony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri.
The previous record for the hottest December in Kansas was set in 1957 and broke the previous record by 0.3 degrees. In Missouri, the previous record was 0.8 degrees ahead of the one before it.
But this month of December broke both records. Average December temperatures jumped 2.6 degrees in Kansas, topping 40 degrees for the first time, and 2.2 in Missouri. While daily temperatures frequently swing several degrees due to weather, such a jump in average monthly temperatures is abnormal, Redmond said.
Lupo said the hot December and the intense cold snap that gripped the Midwest last February canceled each other out. Otherwise, 2021 could have been among the hottest years on record.
In 36 locations, Kansas broke all-time high daily temperature records for December. At Christmas, Independence reached 80 degrees.
In Kansas and Missouri, rising temperatures may increase the risk of drought, especially in arid western Kansas where groundwater supplies are running low. Rising summer precipitation can expose some areas to severe flooding, like the ones that devastated Missouri in 2019.
And hot weather and parched vegetation increase the risk of wildfires and dust storms in Kansas. December’s record average temperature coincided with devastating fires that blew through central Kansas, burn 165,000 acres.
These wildfires were difficult to contain as they blew through during a windstorm that saw speeds as high as 100mph. Along with the drought in western Kansas, Redmond said those winds can also fuel dust storms.
“Even today, this afternoon, we’re going to be moving a lot of dust around western Kansas,” Redmond said.
Lupo said warm winters mean less snow cover, which helps replenish soil moisture before farmers plant crops.
NOAA also tracks the number of weather disasters that exceed $1 billion in losses. Last year was the third-costliest year and had the second-highest number of billion-dollar events since the agency began tracking in 1980.
In Missouri, severe storms and flooding are the leading causes of billion-dollar events. In Kansas, it’s storms and drought.
“There are a lot of people who seem to think that climate change hasn’t affected them, so they don’t really notice it,” said Donald Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. . “But actually it affects it through your wallet. You just don’t realize that your tax money is going to pay for all these disasters.