Although 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” actually 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.
To answer this question I turned to George Phillips with the National Weather Service in Topeka. Phillips has studied the weather in Kansas for many years.
Because of a large ridge of high pressure setting up above the Sunflower State, July and August temperatures will probably experience higher than normal temperatures. This could mean somewhere in the high 80s or mid 90s and even triple digit temperatures, Phillips says. This doesn’t bode well for western Kansas.
Moisture amounts could be above or below “normal,” whatever that is in today’s climate. 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, Phillips says.
“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 science operations officer.
The chance of any wide-spread rains during the rest of the summer is unlikely although not impossible, Phillips says. Instead, Kansas will experience scattered showers and if you’re lucky enough to get one over your field, consider yourself fortunate — it’s going to be hit and miss for the rest of the summer.
As far as the extended drought on the High Plains of Kansas, Phillips reports the western 40 percent of Kansas is in the “D-3” category of extreme drought or higher. Some parts of western Kansas, especially the southwest are in a category “D-4,” considered the worst drought possible.
With three, going on four years of drought in some parts of Kansas, farmers are already speculating on the possibility of having enough moisture to put their next wheat crop in the ground. They’ll need some rain between now and mid-September to ensure the crop germinates.
The first estimates, and at this time they are little more than a guess, indicate above normal temperatures this fall, Phillips says. Predicting moisture amounts is impossible.
With the hottest days of summer bearing down on Kansas generally in mid-July hold on to your hat because 2013 may be a real scorcher — maybe even one for the record books.
Looking forward to the remainder of the summer, what happens with temperatures and rainfall amounts is anybody’s guess. Farmers and producers will keep a watchful eye toward the western sky, keep their fingers crossed and pray for rain.
As for brown dogs in farm country — beware.
John Schlageck is a Farm Bureau commentator, specializing in agriculture and rural Kansas.