How might climate change affect Kansas?

Average Temperature Plot

The Dust Bowl of the 1920's was a dramatic time for Kansas residents. Farmers and townsfolk alike felt the sting of sand and soil as it blew across the plains that had once produced plentiful crops. New knowledge about how to care for prairie soils developed out of that devastating tragedy. Now, the people of Kansas hope to use lessons from their past to prevent similar challenges in the future.

Kansas, along with other Great Plains states, is preparing itself for climate change. It is predicted that the coming decades will bring an increase in drought frequency and severity, with drier conditions in western Kansas and wetter conditions in the eastern part of the state. Summer temperatures are predicted to increase 6 to 10 degrees F over the next 70 years. The southern Great Plains are already experiencing more frequent extreme heat waves.

Increased temperatures will create challenges for the many farmers across the state. Agricultural challenges will likely include the introduction of new insect and disease pests that could not previously survive in Kansas and higher irrigation costs. More frequent heat waves could even cause problems for warm weather crops such as tomatoes, if those heat waves occur during critical growth periods of the plants. Dairy, cattle, and pig farmers will need to come up with strategies to prevent heat stress among their livestock. Heat stress can lead to widespread livestock deaths, lower milk productivity, and slower weight gain, among other problems. Future farming success will rely on diversification of crops and adaptability of the farms themselves.

Snow Geese

Presently, water resources from the High Plains/Ogallala aquifer are strapped from too many users and not enough natural recharge. With increasing temperatures and therefore an increasing need, water resources will be stressed even further. The High Plains/Ogallala aquifer will be put at risk (the source of drinking water for 80% of the population of the Great Plains). Prairie potholes and playas, like those at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, are important wetland ecosystems and are likely to be negatively impacted by a warming climate, which will have detrimental impacts on migratory birds, frogs, and the other wildlife that depend on these ecosystems. Many playa lakes and prairie potholes are already disappearing. These are also an important recharge source for the High Plains/Ogallala aquifer.

Kansas' greenhouse gas emissions are growing at about half the rate of the national average. The majority of emissions come from electricity consumption and fossil fuel combustion related to energy production and industrial activities, followed by agricultural activities.

Kansas has developed the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group (KEEP) to study climate change issues within the state and to work towards implementing strategies and policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while benefiting Kansas residents.

What does this mean for Quivira NWR?

The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge provides important stopover habitat for migratory birds, especially waterfowl and species heading to northern nesting areas. It also provides a home for sandhill cranes, black-tailed prairie dogs, and other wildlife. Warming temperatures and potential changes in precipitation patterns may alter the way in which the Quivira NWR staff manages the Refuge for these animals.


Photo: Snow geese at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge; Courtesy of USFWS

Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group (KEEP). 2010. KEEP website <>. Accessed 30 Dec 2010.

Union of Concerned Scientists. 2009. Great Plains backgrounder. Based on "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" (USGCRP 2009). Cambridge, MA., USA.

Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group. 2009. Interim Report to Governor. Executive Order 08-03. Kansas, USA.

National Conference of State Legislatures. Climate Change and the Economy: Kansas, Assessing the Costs of Climate Change. 2008. National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington, D.C., USA.

Data from The Weather Channel