Temperatures spiked above 90 degrees in Wichita last week even though the norm for early May is in the mid-70s. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)
Temperatures spiked above 90 degrees in Wichita last week even though the norm for early May is in the mid-70s. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

Sweltering. Muggy. Burning up. 

Last week, high temperatures in Wichita blew past 70-degree norms, reaching into the 90s. And the city broke records for how warm it was at night, according to Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.   

“It’s definitely higher than what the normal would be,” Pearce said. 

Why the heat wave? And what does that mean for this summer?  

Meteorologists and climate prediction experts said a variety of factors might mean summer in Wichita looks hotter than normal — but they don’t necessarily have to do with the May heat snap. 

Wichita’s record-breaking week in May

High temperatures in Wichita in early May normally reach the mid-70s, according to data from the National Weather Service. Last week, the temperature hit the 90s, including 94 on May 10.

Low temperatures last week were also as much as 20 degrees higher than normal — so much higher, in fact, that the city hit a record high for low temperatures on May 8, 9 and 10, according to data from the National Weather Service. 

The heat snap came from a weather pattern that shifted storms to the north and allowed the heat to move into the Midwest, Pearce said. 

This year also has a weather pattern called La Niña taking place across the world. This means global winds are favoring above-normal temperatures across the southern U.S., said Brad Pugh, a meteorologist at the NWS’ Climate Prediction Center.

The Climate Prediction Center's three-month temperature outlook. (Courtesy of NOAA/CPC)
The Climate Prediction Center’s three-month temperature outlook. (Courtesy of NOAA/CPC)

A chance for a hotter than usual summer in Wichita

La Niña is favored to continue through the summer, which might mean hotter temperatures in Wichita, Pugh said.

And the Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an up to 60% chance that temperatures this summer in Wichita — and the majority of Kansas — reach higher than normal.

Pugh said the southwest and southern plains have ongoing drought conditions, which create a positive feedback loop for warmer temperatures.

“If there’s less moisture in the topsoil, then the low levels of the atmosphere heat up more,” he said.  

Is climate change linked to Wichita’s temps?

It’s not possible to tie one weather event, such as an early May heat wave, with climate change, Pearce said. 

But Pugh said that historical temperature trends do impact predictions for this summer’s above-average temperatures. In Wichita, recent history shows that annual temperatures are increasingly above-average, said Andrew Swindle, an associate professor of geology at Wichita State University and the coordinator for the school’s environment and sustainability certificate. 

“You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s getting warmer,” Swindle said.

The majority of years since 2005 have had above-average temperatures in Wichita, Swindle said. The increase in temperatures appears tied to human-induced climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, he added. 

NASA and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are consistently recording higher and higher temperatures, and we’re seeing higher and higher temperatures around here,” Swindle said. “So it seems to me that it’s all part of this climate change phenomenon.”

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Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership...