WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The fall season brings larger temperature swings back into Kansas as our jet stream pattern becomes more active. This allows cold air that has been locked up across Canada to break loose and sink into the Central High Plains. While fall can feature plenty of warm days, the closer we get to the end of October, the more our temperatures support cold snaps, which allow for the opportunity for snow in parts of the state.
Across northwestern Kansas, the first snow of the season can occur in early September, but it is more common to see the season’s first snowflakes toward the end of October into November. According to the National Weather Service in Goodland, the average first snowfall for Goodland is Oct. 31, Nov. 5 for Colby, Nov. 26 in Hill City and Nov. 17 for McCook, Nebraska.
The earliest snowfall ever on record for Goodland was recorded last year on Sept. 9. Hill City and Colby have also seen snowflakes fly in September, but it is not as common. Two of the top 10 highest snowfall events occurred at the end of October in Goodland. The second-highest snowfall event on record occurred on Oct. 25 into Oct. 26, 1997, where 19.5″ of snow fell during that period. Winds gusted over 50 mph as frigid temperatures settled in with overnight lows dropping below 20°. The second October snow event was the tenth-highest on record, producing 12.6″ of snow between Oct. 30 and Oct. 31, 1979. Winds gusted to nearly 60 mph, with temperatures only jumping into the 30s for daytime highs.
Southwestern Kansas has also seen September snowfalls. The only locations that have received recorded snowfall in September include Garden City, Healy and Liberal. The average first snow does not occur until the end of November into December.
In Healy, 0.5″ of snow fell on Sept. 28, 1985, with a trace of snow noted in Garden City the following day. Just a year prior, Liberal recorded almost 2″ of snowfall on Sept. 29, 1984. In this part of the state, snowfall is rare that early in the year.
That said, places like Ashland and Elkhart have seen measurable snowfalls through the month of October. Two notable storms that brought the earliest snowflakes on record to this part of the state include Ashland on Oct. 9, 1970, where 2.0″ of snow fell as well as a storm system from 1916 that dropped 1.0″ in Elkhart.
For north-central Kansas, the average first measurable snowfall typically occurs toward the end of November into December, but early snowfalls have been recorded in October.
Hays was also impacted by the Oct. 19, 1916, storm system, which brought 2.0″ of snow. The earliest snowfall recorded in WaKeeney occurred on Oct. 23, 1945, of half an inch of snow.
For south-central Kansas, the average first snowfall of the season typically occurs in December. On average, Wichita receives its first measurable snowfall of 0.1″ or more of snow around Dec. 2.
That said, Wichita did see its earliest snowfall on record just a couple of years ago, on Oct. 14, 2018, where 0.7″ of snow was recorded at Eisenhower National Airport. As for other locations around south-central Kansas, reliable snowfall data has only been kept for Wichita, according to the National Weather Service in Wichita.
The start of November could provide the right setup for some folks in the state to see the first snowflakes of the season. We will be tracking those opportunities in the Storm Track 3 weather center on KSN News 3.
— Meteorologist Erika Paige