For the week of July 24, 2017
Sweltering in the ‘dog days’ of summer
By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
In case you hadn’t noticed, much of the state is mired in the “dog days” of summer. Excessive heat warnings. Abundant sunshine. High humidity.
You may not like this weather, but this is July and August in Kansas. It’s what we live with most years. And while it may be nothing to brag about, Kansans and the ancient Romans have a common appreciation (maybe aversion is a better word) to hot summer days.
While some Kansans are fortunate to work, and most of us live in air-conditioned homes, the Romans were forced to retreat to the seaside, a shady tree or a dip at the local bathhouse to keep cool.
So where did the term “dog days” come from?
Ancient Romans noted that the brightest star in the night sky – Sirius – appeared each year during hot, sultry weather. Sirius, which originates from the Greek word for “scorcher,” became known as the Dog Star. Consequently, the hot, steamy weather it brought was called, “dog days.”
Believing the star caused the miserable weather, ancient Romans sacrificed brown dogs to appease the rage of Sirius.
Instead of mythology, astrology or old wives' tales, we have meteorology to help us define what’s going on with our weather. Based on the predictability of today’s weather – and it has improved dramatically – some people might argue we should revert to the techniques used by the early Romans.
Somehow, I seem to have started this column on the wrong foot. Maybe it’s the heat or lack of moisture. Anyway, let me begin again.
What does the rest of the summer and fall weather in Kansas look like?
To answer this question, I turned to Bill Gargan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka. Gargan has studied the weather in Kansas for years.
Because of a large ridge of high pressure setting above the Sunflower State, July and August temperatures will probably be higher than normal. This could mean somewhere in the high 80s or mid 90s and even triple digit temperatures, Gargan says.
Moisture amounts could be above or below “normal.” It’s difficult to predict moisture amounts during the summer months in Kansas. There just aren’t enough signals to rely on.
Thunderstorms will continue to be spotty with the potential for some heavy rains with these isolated storms.
“An isolated, small spot on the Kansas map may receive an inch or two while just a mile or less away may only pick up a trace of moisture,” says the National Weather Service lead forecaster.
The chance of any wide-spread rains during the rest of the summer is unlikely although not impossible. Instead, Kansas farmers and ranchers could experience scattered showers and if they’re lucky enough to experience one over cropland or pasture, they should consider themselves fortunate.
Moisture is going to be hit and miss for the rest of the summer and into the fall, Gargan says. The first early estimates, are little more than a guess, indicate above normal temperatures into the fall.
With the hottest days of summer bearing down on Kansas reach for your water bottle and keep your straw hat firmly anchored on your head. The rest of the summer may be a real scorcher – maybe even one for the record books.
What happens remains anybody’s guess. Farmers and livestock producers will keep a watchful eye toward the western sky, keep their fingers crossed and pray for rain.
As for brown dogs in farm and ranch country – beware.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.