It may have snowed just three weeks ago in Wichita, Kansas, but that seems like a distant memory now. August-like temperatures have been baking the state since last weekend, causing widespread power outages as residents rush to turn on the A.C., and further exacerbating a drought which threatens to devastate this year’s wheat crop.
On Sunday, May 4th, the temperature in Wichita peaked at 102°F — breaking just about every kind of heat record kept. It was not only the hottest May 4 on record, it was the hottest temperature ever recorded for the month of May. Before Sunday, the earliest date Wichita has seen 102°F was June 4, 1933 — a whole month later in the season.
And the heat has continued through the week, throughout the state, On Tuesday, heat records were broken in Wichita (99°F), Medicine Lodge (102°F), and Salina (101°F). On Wednesday, Concordia, Kansas broke a heat record that had stood for 127 years.
More than 12,000 people lost power in Sedgwick County as utilities struggled to keep up with the sudden demand for air conditioning and water use in Wichita has spiked by 25 percent.
It’s not just the heat bringing misery to the state. If Wichita doesn’t see a little over a third of an inch of rain Thursday, it will break the record for driest start of the year set by the Dust Bowl year of 1936, becoming the driest year since records began in 1888.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week designated five counties of south-central Kansas as disaster areas because of the drought and forecast crop losses. Farmers and ranchers in Butler, Kingman, Reno, Sedgwick and Harvey counties are eligible for federal assistance.
Wheat is the biggest crop in Kansas, but the state is now bracing for a meager harvest. Assessments of the crop last week, predicted an 18 percent drop in yield from last year. The 260.7 million bushels, currently hoped for, would be the smallest crop since 1996, and without rain, the crop could be even smaller. Wheat fields currently stand at about half the height normal for this time of year, and the wheat has come up thin after a long, bitter winter and now a hot, dry spring.
“Wheat won’t get any better even if it does rain. Rain will only preserve what is left,” Ben Handcock, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, told Farm Futures.