Archive for Thursday, February 2, 1995

FARMERS SWEAT OUT WINTER HEAT WAVE

February 2, 1995

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Since October, Douglas County has received less than a third of its average amount of snow.

If the weather gets seasonal anytime this season, J.C. Brown and his son, David, may have something to worry about.

The father-son team runs a farm about 10 miles southeast of Lawrence, where below-average snowfall has left the Browns' 100 acres of wheat unprotected from cold weather.

"If it got real severe, it'd be nice to have a cover on the wheat," David Brown said as he and his father threw hay bales Tuesday in 50-degree temperatures. "So far, though, that hasn't been much of a problem."

Garry Keeler, Douglas County Extension agent, said wheat would be safe as long as temperatures remained mild.

"The problem comes when there's freezing and thawing," he said. "The soil moves through the freezing-and-thawing process. It's called heaving. What happens is it moves the wheat crown and roots closer to surface, and the roots freeze."

Keeler said snow provides an insulating blanket for plants.

This winter, the blanket has been thin. Since Oct. 1, 3.002 inches of snow has fallen in and around Lawrence, the Kansas University Weather Service reported.

Mary Knapp, a state climatologist in Manhattan, said Douglas County receives an average of 10.2 inches of snow from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31.

Knapp helps compile the Weather Data Library, a service of Kansas State University, the state Cooperative Extension Service and KSU's agriculture experiment stations.

The library's records, which document Lawrence's weather since the 1800s, show that the snowiest winter locally was in 1978-79, when 36.1 inches fell from October to April. The record low for that period occurred in 1947-48, when .2 of an inch was recorded.

Keeler said that despite the lack of snow, moisture levels were adequate.

But the mild winter may have repercussions this summer, he said. Keeler said plants that are tricked out of dormancy will draw food reserves they would normally store until spring, making them more vulnerable to diseases later in the year.

For the Browns, though, low snowfall and unseasonable temperatures have been a blessing in some ways. Going into calving season, their 65 cattle are healthier than they would have been after months of wintry conditions.

Also, temperate conditions allowed the Browns to tear down a barn at another farm, move it to their own and erect it.

"We couldn't have done that" in a typical winter, David Brown said.

Meteorologists predict mild weather, with highs in the 40s and 50s, to continue at least through Monday.

But Knapp's statistics suggest snow hasn't taken a permanent powder. Average snowfall is 3.9 inches in February, she said, and the record for the month is 17.5 inches.

"And the snowiest month ever in your area was March 1960," she said. "That was 23 inches."

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