Rejection of Kansas Coal-Fired Power Plants Defies State Climate Data

Published February 1, 2008

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has rejected a request to build two new 700 megawatt coal-fired electricity generating power plants, citing concerns over the proposed plants’ carbon dioxide emissions and “the potential harm to our environment and health.”

In making its October 18 finding, the department ignored all of the known climate history and future climate projections for the state of Kansas.

Temperatures Cooling

Averaged across the state of Kansas, the long-term annual temperature history shows a slightly upward trend over the past 112 years–the time since widespread records were first compiled by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center. However, all of the temperature increase occurred more than 75 years ago, prior to 1930.

Since then, from 1930 through 2006, there has been a slight decline in the statewide averaged temperature records, at a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has increased.

Only two of the 10 hottest years on record statewide occurred within the past 50 years, while eight of the state’s 10 all-time hottest years, including the six hottest years on record, occurred prior to 1956–more than a half-century ago.

Further evidence of the lack of climate warming in Kansas was documented in 2000 by Philip W. Suckling and Martin D. Mitchell, who studied the spatial and temporal variation of the climate boundary in the central U.S. over the 100-year period 1900 to 1999.

Contrary to climate models and alarmist claims, they found a northward migration of warmer climate zones to central North America does not appear to be occurring. Instead, they show the central United States–including Kansas–was warmer before an elevation of manmade greenhouse gases and cooler during the two decades of increasing CO2 levels.

Less Frequent Droughts

Averaged across the state of Kansas for each of the past 112 years, statewide annual total precipitation exhibits an increasing trend amounting to about 10 percent more precipitation falling per year at the end of the record than at the beginning.

More important than the long-term trend, the record of Kansas’s annual precipitation is dominated by year-to-year and decade-to-decade variability. During the wettest year in the state’s history, 1951, a total of 41.50 inches of precipitation fell, while just five years later, in 1956, the driest year on record, only 14.39 inches of precipitation fell.

Recent annual totals show nothing unusual when compared to the observed historical record, having remained within a couple of inches of the long-term mean.

Evident from the state’s precipitation history has been a long-term upward trend in total precipitation. Consequently, the frequency and intensity of drought conditions across the state has decreased.

The Kansas Palmer Drought Severity Index history is also dominated by shorter-term variations that largely reflect the state’s precipitation variability. Droughts in the mid-1930s and mid-1950s mark the most significant events of the past 112 years. Nothing in recent years has come close to those historic drought events.

A similar situation exists with regard to big storms. Lying mostly within “tornado alley,” Kansas ranks among the most twister-frequented states in the country–but the number of strong tornadoes across Kansas has actually declined since 1950.

Serious Future Warming Unlikely

A team of scientists led by Zaitao Pan of St. Louis University recently concluded a modeling study using a regional-scale climate model aimed at examining how the climate of the central United States may change in the future.

The modeling study predicted future temperature change in Kansas would be very small. Even so, it can be fairly argued that regional-scale models carry higher risks of inaccuracy.

However, in 2004, when Pan and his colleagues move past modeling experiments to real climate observations, they report cooling, not warming, in recent decades:

“In the last 25 years of the 20th century most major land regions experienced a summer warming trend, but the central U.S. cooled by 0.2-0.8 K. In contrast most climate projections using GCMs show warming for all continental interiors including North America. We examined this discrepancy by using a regional climate model and found a circulation-precipitation coupling under enhanced greenhouse gas concentrations that occurs on scales too small for current GCMs to resolve well.”

The report continued, “Results show a local minimum of warming in the central U.S. (a ‘warming hole’) associated with changes in low-level circulations that lead to replenishment of seasonally depleted soil moisture, thereby increasing late summer evapotranspiration and suppressing daytime maximum temperatures. These regional-scale feedback processes may partly explain the observed late 20th century temperature trend in the central U.S. and potentially could reduce the magnitude of future greenhouse warming in the region.”

The results of Pan et al. are striking in concluding future temperatures in Kansas and the surrounding region of the central United States should change to only a small degree under conditions of rising greenhouse gases.

Robert Ferguson ([email protected]) is president of the Science and Public Policy Institute.