Dodge City residents woke up to a surprise on Friday, with snow blanketing the ground across town.
The National Weather Service station next to the airport reported 2.7 inches of snowfall and received reports of 3.5 inches in Jetmore. At the height of the fall, visibility was reduced to one-quarter of a mile. The weather service alerted the Kansas Department of Transportation, but latent heat in the ground kept the roads relatively clear.
The storm quickly moved east and by 1:30 p.m. the snow had started to dissolve into slush. Slush accumulated on the roads and the weather service sent a notice to the department of transportation, but since the ground was still warm the snow didn't last long.
While not the earliest snowfall on record, which happened on Sept. 21, 1995, snow in October is still uncommon, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Larry Ruthi, occurring about once every six years.
The early snowfall isn't necessarily an omen of things to come, though Ruthi predicts we may have a slightly above-average snowfall this winter.
Typically, Dodge sees around 21 inches of snow per year, with the first flurries developing in mid to late November. Significant precipitation isn't expected until the end of the month, Ruthi said.
By Saturday, the temperature should be reliably in the sixties, as if the snow never happened.
“Western Kansas is always exciting because of the extremes,” Ruthi said. After all these years the fast-talking, 35-year veteran meteorologist says he still loves the trade. Perhaps it is because of the peculiar nature of Kansas weather: Kansas sees pretty much every type of weather with the exception of tropical cyclones, he said.
Sitting in the weather office, Ruthi is surrounded by flat screens displaying a jumble of organized chaos. Satellites provide the majority of the data used to predict the weather, about 80 percent, but the agency gets some of its most reliable information from weather balloons and residents trained as observers.
The balloons are launched concurrently around the world at 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. GMT, or 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. locally, and quickly rise to altitudes of more than 80,000 ft. where they collect and transmit their findings to the forecasting center.
In addition to the 24 employees at the weather station, Ruthi said local observers are key components to the weather prediction process, and for providing timely warnings.
“Knowing what's going on out in the real world by spotters remains important, even with all this technology,” Ruthi said.
The Dodge City station serves an area between the borders of Colorado and Oklahoma, to I-70 and east beyond Pratt. Most of the 10 forecasters have between 15-20 years of local experience, providing an edge when making predictions essential to the agriculture industry.
The station is also set up to provide life-saving information in times of calamity. If needed, the office can operate on backup power for up to a week, and provide alerts over radio, emergency channels and broadband.
Page 2 of 2 - Ruthi urges everyone to have an emergency weather radio, which can be activated remotely by the station in case of severe weather events or chemical spills.
* Globe staff writer Christopher Guinn contributed reporting.