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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas and Missouri hit their warmest average December temperatures last month, according to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with Kansas surpassing 40 degrees for the first time ever.

Data shows Kansas recorded an average temperature of 41.1 degrees Fahrenheit, which broke its previous record by nearly 2.9 degrees, 38.5 degrees Fahrenheit in December 1957. In Missouri, temperatures reached an average of 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit, challenging its previous record of an average of 42.4 degrees Fahrenheit in December 2015.

“Warmer winters overall are bringing a reduction in the snows, and especially an increase in the overnight temperatures,” FOX4’s Joe Lauria, evening news meteorologist, said in an email. “They are signaling less extreme cold temperatures, an increase in early season green-ups, leading to more insect issues, as well as an increase in allergies with an even earlier start to the allergy season.”

While there are environmental and health risks to consider, Lauria said the heat could actually help reduce energy demands during winter seasons, as well as provide additional outdoor work time for construction efforts in the city.

But he also said the negative implications of climate change can have a major impact on our agricultural industry, leading to pest issues, as well as concerns regarding drought.

“The reduction though, in snow, is an issue for farmers to some extent because that snow melts into their retaining ponds, etcetera, to build up water supplies,” Lauria said in an email. “With warmer overall winter temperatures, we’re also seeing increased pest issues for cropland too, leading into the spring season.”

Missouri’s monthly average is up by 18.6% from 2020’s December temperature average of 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit. In Kansas, the December average spiked nearly 12.7% from its 2020 average of 35.5 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Rising temperatures have the potential to increase risk of drought in Kansas and Missouri, especially in western Kansas, where groundwater supplies are already scarce.

According to NOAA, Kansas Decembers are jumping 0.3 degrees warmer each decade, while annual average temperatures are rising by 0.1 degree. 

In fact, the state broke all-time high daily temperature records for December in 36 locations, with Independence, Kansas reaching 80 degrees on Christmas Day.

“In a warmer world, it’s likely that droughts will increase in intensity and coverage,” Lauria said in an email. “Really, it goes to the extreme nature of weather.”

Warmer weather and dehydrated vegetation leaves Kansas at great risk of wildfires and dust storms, something data can speak to as well.

Kansas’s all-time high average temperature in December lined up as ravaging wildfires tore across central Kansas, destroying thousands of acres. Those fires were challenging to contain, as a derecho storm brought wind speeds as high as 100 mph.

“As we recently saw in Kansas and Colorado, extreme winds can create firestorms that can’t be stopped until the winds fade, firebreaks hold, or needed moisture falls,” Lauria said in an email. 

Aside from temperature and precipitation, NOAA also tracks weather disasters that exceeded $1 billion in damages. Data reveals 2021 was the third costliest year with the second-highest number of billion-dollar events since tracking began in 1980.

In Kansas, the leading cause of billion-dollar events is storms and drought. In Missouri, it’s severe storms and flooding.

On the other hand, rising temperatures can also mean warmer atmospheres capable of retaining more moisture, which can lead to increased precipitation and extreme rain events, similar to those that swept Missouri in 2019.

In the context of Kansas City, crumbling infrastructure makes matters worse, as the expansion of road systems and suburbia allows more water to run off into creeks and streams, Lauria said. 

“The main concern locally though is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor (moisture),” Lauria said in an email. “This moisture has been taking the form of more extreme rain events, whether here or elsewhere in the past several decades.”

NOAA’s Annual 2021 National Climate Report provides more information on how storms and precipitation impact temperature.