Unseasonably mild weather for December in Kansas

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Christmas is only a few days away, and astronomical winter begins on the 21st, but the weather certainly doesn’t look or feel winter-like right now. Heavy rain drenched southwest Kansas last week, with precipitation totals more typical of late spring than late fall, and mild temperatures have been the rule for most of this month. For those traveling for the holidays, a lack of snow in Kansas and much of the United States is good news, as travel delays due to the weather are less likely. But for those dreaming of a white Christmas in Kansas, it appears that holiday activities such as dashing through the snow and building a snowman in the meadow may happen only in your dreams. All hope is not lost, though, as the forecast models call for a precipitation event on Christmas Eve. However, as it appears now, temperatures will be too warm for anything but rain in the eastern half of the state. In the west, temperatures may be cold enough for snow, but the bulk of the moisture may end up too far east to give those areas anything more than a light snow event. The meteorological definition of a white Christmas is at least 1 inch of snow on the ground at 7 AM on Christmas morning, and the chances of that happening are low in the west and near zero in the east. The models are not in complete agreement yet though, so monitor forecasts if you have travel plans between now and Christmas.

December has been unseasonably mild in Kansas so far. Through the first 20 days of December, the average daily temperature across the Kansas Mesonet has been above normal for 17 days. Only December 1, 2, and 10 averaged below normal. The warmest conditions were on the 7th when highs were in the 60s and 70s statewide, leading to an average temperature of nearly 17 degrees above normal that day. With more days of mild weather in the forecast in the days leading up to Christmas, December 2023 could go down in history as one of the warmest on record. The average temperature across the Kansas Mesonet for the first 20 days of December is 39.3°F, or 5.3° above normal. If Kansas’ statewide average temperature were to finish at that number, 2023 would be the second warmest of the last 129 Decembers on record, behind only 2021 (Table 1), which averaged 41.1°F.
 

Table 1. The 15 warmest Decembers in Kansas, as ranked by average statewide temperature (in °F) for the month, dating back to 1895. Source: NCEI.

Rank

Year

Average

Rank

Year

Average

Rank

Year

Average

1

2021

41.1°

6

1965

37.4°

T8

2001

36.9°

2

1957

38.5°

7

1939

37.3°

12

1999

36.8°

3

1896

38.2°

T8

1931

36.9°

13

2019

36.7°

4

1933

37.9°

T8

1946

36.9°

T14

1988

36.3°

5

2015

37.6°

T8

1959

36.9°

T14

1991

36.3°

 

Could 2023 be the warmest December on record?  We will probably fall short of 2021’s mark, but we could get closer to the record than we are now. Mild temperatures are forecast in the days leading up to Christmas, with highs potentially reaching 60 degrees in the eastern half of the state. The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for the last 7 days of December favors above-normal temperatures across the state as well, with the highest chances in northeast Kansas (Figure 1). Still, it’s worth noting that the same forecast models that disagree on precipitation around Christmas Eve also have a difference of opinion regarding what happens after Christmas. The American model, the GFS, favors mild temperatures after Christmas, while the European model, the ECMWF, thinks temperatures will cool to near normal.
 

A map of the united statesDescription automatically generated

Figure 1. The Climate Prediction Center’s 8 to 14-day outlook for the period December 25-31, 2023.

 

Even if we don’t set a new record this month, it appears likely that 2023 will be a top-10 warmest December for the state. The final ranking for the month, based on the official monthly average temperature for Kansas, will be released by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on January 9. The average precipitation data will also be released then, at which time we will see how high Kansas ranks on the list of wettest Decembers on record. Topping both lists is unlikely, but a top-10 finish on both lists is a definite possibility. Individual climate divisions are even more likely to finish in the top 10 on their respective lists. Southwest Kansas, the wettest division so far this month with an average of 2.27 inches (Source: Midwest Regional Climate Center), could finish in the top three wettest Decembers. North Central Kansas is running the most above normal of any division in the state; their departure from normal through the first 20 days of the month is +7.0°F. Should their departure from normal still be that high at month’s end, it would be their 2nd warmest December on record. New records are also possible at individual observation sites. Dodge City is already guaranteed a top 10 finish on their list of wettest Decembers thanks to 2.00” of precipitation this month. Hill City and Medicine Lodge’s average monthly temperatures through the 20th are above their current record for warmest December, set back in 1957. Most of the official observing sites in Kansas will likely have a top 10 warmest December should their current average temperatures stay where they are now (Table 2). An updated report detailing December's final rankings will be issued soon after the official NCEI numbers are released.
 

Table 2. Records for warmest monthly minimum temperature in December at selected locations across Kansas. Rankings are limited to months with no missing records. Source: SC-ACIS. Years with a (*) indicate the most recent of multiple occurrences. ^Data for 2023 are as of December 20th. T in the ranking columns refers to a tie with at least one other year.

Location

[Number

of Years]

Coldest

December Temperature (°F)

Average

December Temperature (°F)

2023^

2023

Rank - Highest

Record Highest

(Year)

2023^

2023

Rank –

Warmest

Record

Highest

(Year)

Normal

(2023 Dep.)

Ashland

[104 years]

16°

T 2nd

20°

(1936)

40.3°

8th

42.3°

(1933)

34.3°

(+6.0°)

Chanute

[103 years]

23°

1st

22°

(2021)

43.6°

3rd

48.2°

(2021)

37.0°

(+6.6°)

Concordia

[136 years]

18°

T 2nd

21°

(1931)

40.1°

3rd

42.3°

(1933)

31.5°

(+8.6°)

Dodge City

[150 years]

17°

T 3rd

18°

(2019)

40.4°

T 6th

44.6°

(1889)

34.0°

(+6.4°)

Emporia

[95 years]

23°

1st

19°

(1959*)

40.9°

4th

44.7°

(2021)

34.2°

(+6.7°)

Garden City

[102 years]

11°

T 6th

15°

(1991*)

37.7°

T 6th

40.1°

(1933)

32.3°

(+5.4°)

Goodland

[110 years]

11°

T 4th

13°

(1896)

37.5°

4th

39.6°

(1933)

30.8°

(+6.7°)

Hays

[115 years]

17°

1st

16°

(2019*)

37.5°

3rd

38.7°

(1933)

31.4°

(+6.1°)

Hill City

[86 years]

16°

1st

15°

(2019)

38.6°

1st

38.0°

(1957)

31.5°

(+7.1°)

Horton

[107 years]

17°

1st

16°

(1957)

36.8°

T 5th

39.5°

(1965)

30.5°

(+6.3°)

Manhattan

[96 years]

20°

1st

16°

(2015*)

38.5°

4th

40.9°

(2021)

32.7°

(+5.8°)

Medicine Lodge

[98 years]

20°

2nd

21°

(1957)

44.4°

1st

44.3°

(1957)

35.5°

(+8.9°)

Olathe

[97 years]

23°

1st

20°

(1931)

40.9°

3rd

45.0°

(2021)

33.8°

(+7.1°)

Salina

[115 years]

20°

1st

18°

(2015*)

39.8°

6th

40.6°

(1939)

32.9°

(+6.9°)

Sedan

[103 years]

23°

1st

20°

(1986*)

43.0°

5th

46.5°

(2021)

36.6°

(+6.4°)

Topeka

[136 years]

21°

2nd

22°

(1931)

40.6°

5th

45.3°

(1889)

33.9°

(+6.7°)

Tribune

[105 years]

T 5th

11° (1994*)

35.3°

T 13th

38.9°

(1933)

31.0°

(+4.3°)

Wichita

[136 years]

22°

2nd

23°

(1931)

41.3°

5th

46.4°

(1889)

35.6°

(+5.7°)

 

One reason for the high ranking on the list of warmest Decembers is a lack of Arctic air this month. So far this month, the coldest reading in the state is 5°, recorded on the 10th at the Hamilton County Mesonet site. A December with no sub-zero readings anywhere in the state is not unprecedented; it happened in some of our warmest years on record such as 1896 (coldest 4°), 1957 (0°) and 2015 (1°). Speaking of a lack of cold, a few places in Kansas may set a more obscure record this year: the December in which the coldest temperature recorded during the month was the highest of any December. For example, in Manhattan, the coldest so far this month (as of the 20th) is 20° back on the 2nd and 3rd of December. In every other December on record, the temperature fell to 16° or colder at least once. As of the 20th, at least nine locations in Kansas are still in the running for their warmest monthly minimum in December.

 

Matthew Sittel, Assistant State Climatologist
msittel@ksu.edu


Tags:  weather Climate winter weather  

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