Science & Environment

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Engineering firm Burns & McDonnell has received Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones for commercial use.

The Kansas City-based company celebrated the new certification with a test flight Wednesday over the new campus being built in south Kansas City.

Steve Santovasi says using unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to complete inspections presents a significant time savings over having to obtain permits to bring in heavy equipment.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stopped in Kansas City Monday to address the Congress of the International Association of Agricultural Production Insurers, a global group of farm insurers.

Though Vilsack was mostly there to explain U.S. crop insurance subsidies to the largely European audience – elsewhere, direct payments to farmers remain more common – he also touched on consumer pushback against genetically-modified crops.

The Kansas Corporation Commission has approved a rate increase of 9 percent for customers of Kansas City Power & Light. The increase was a compromise allowing the electricity company to collect an additional $48 million per year from its 250,000 Kansas electricity customers.

KCP&L says the increase pays for power plant upgrades and means a cleaner, more reliable electric system.

KCC Commissioner Pat Apple voted against the proposal. He says Kansas customers of KCP&L consistently have to pay more for electricity than customers on the Missouri side of the border.

Courtesy Photo / KC STEM Alliance

The White House has made it a point to urge girls to get involved in math, science and engineering.

In 2013, President Obama said, "We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … not being encouraged the way they need to.” 

Despite that, KC STEM Alliance director Laura Loyacono says that females are actually a shrinking percentage of the computer science workforce.

Wikimedia Commons

The Kansas Department of Agriculture's Division of Animal Health is warning Kansas residents about an uptick in rabies infections this year.

As of July 1, there have been 69 positive cases of rabies in the state, 13 of which have been in domestic animals. In 2014, there were 69 cases for the entire year. 

Kansas Animal Health Commissioner Bill Brown says that the increase is part of a natural cycle. He says rabies cases typically surge every few years, and this year's hot temperatures and wet weather could be spurring more animal activity — and more chances for infection.

Cody Newill / KCUR

A group of Web developers from across the globe gathered in Lawrence's Liberty Hall over the weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Django," a Web application framework with Kansas roots.

In 2005, Web developers at the Lawrence Journal World created Django to help journalists put stories on the Web quickly. Now, it's used in a wide variety of websites and apps, such as Instagram, Pinterest and the Washington Times. 

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Wall clouds were reported across the Kansas City metro Wednesday night, including some reports of rotation and even brief touch downs in eastern Jackson County and Cass County.

Trained spotters and residents reported a tornado in Lee's Summit and one in Pleasant Hill. There were reports of some damage, and as of 8:11 p.m., more than 10,000 Kansas City Power & Light customers were without power. 

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Update, 8:04 a.m., Saturday

At the moment, Westar Energy isn't reporting any outages in Wyandotte or Johnson counties. Independence Power & Light reports 3,798 customers without power. The Kansas City Board of Public Utilities reports 9,873.

Kansas City Power & Light reports 22,447 outages in Jackson County and 2,333 in Johnson County.

Original post continues below

At around 2 a.m. on Friday, a storm with winds up to 80 mph rolled through the Kansas City metro area, taking down trees and power lines.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

Abby Cornelius, a homeowner in Martin City, Missouri, sees them everywhere.

They're in the grass, crouching on leaves, swimming in the dog bowl, and hanging out on the grill — dead or alive.

Last Sunday, she noticed her newly cleaned gutters were suspiciously clogged.

“I crawled out the window to take a look and had to scoop dead cicadas out of them,” she said in an email. “The shells will probably have to be power washed off the house."

The cicadas that have invaded Cornelius’ yard are periodical cicadas. They live just a few feet underground for the majority of their lives and emerge in great numbers every 17 years to reproduce.

Last seen in 1998, the 17-year Brood IV, or Kansan Brood, broke ground this summer in the Kansas City area, reportedly hugging trees and covering tires in some neighborhoods.

Martin Cathrae / Flickr-CC

During the summer months in Kansas City, it's common for the sweet scent of fresh-cut grass to waft through the muggy air.

And while that smell might be pleasing to some of us humans, two University of Missouri researchers say the newly shorn grass blades are none too pleased about it.

Reveal

KCUR's new investigative show, Reveal, this weekend explores energy production in the United States.

Airing Sunday at 7 p.m., Reveal will look at how fracking has opened new realms of oil and gas production – and we’ll examine some of the complex consequences of so-called energy independence.

The recent oil boom in North Dakota – driven by hydraulic fracturing and advances in technology – is a big reason why the United States is now the world’s leader in combined oil and natural gas production.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR

It's that time of year. Flowers are blooming, the grass is green, and the sweet scent of honeysuckle wafts in the warm summer air.

Honeysuckle’s fragrance however, may be the only sweet thing about it. According to conservationists in Kansas and Missouri, Asian Bush Honeysuckle is the most visible and environmentally destabilizing invasive species in the metro area.

Larry Rizzo, a natural history biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation, says that there is a difference between invasive and exotic species, and the two are not necessarily exclusive. 

When you smell fresh-mowed grass, you’re actually smelling botanical terror. Two MU professors fill us in on the intriguing ways plants communicate.

Guests:

  • Jack C. Schultz, director, Christopher S. Bond Life Science Center, University of Missouri-Columbia
  • Heidi Appel, senior research scientist, Christopher S. Bond Life Science Center, University of Missouri-Columbia

Elle Moxley / KCUR

The Kansas City area was under flash flood warning Wednesday after a storm system dumped rain across the metro, flooding intersections, filling creeks and storm drains. Intersections on both sides of the state line also flooded as storm drains proved unable accommodate the deluge.

Pamela Murray from the National Weather Service says it wasn’t just the 3-5 inches of rain that fell, but how fast it fell.

“The ground's not able to soak in the water as fast as it’s coming down, so a lot of it runs off,” says Murray. 

Elle Moxley / KCUR

As Mosby, Missouri, Police Sgt. Jason Lininger helped residents evacuate their Clay County homes Sunday morning, he asked Fishing River Fire how fast the water was rising.

"At one point, it actually rose four foot in one hour," Lininger told Gov. Jay Nixon during a briefing Monday afternoon.

Severe weather this weekend spawned 10 confirmed in Bates, Henry, Caldwell, Jackson, Ray, Newton, Lawrence and Polk counties. An unconfirmed tornado near Bethany leveled several grain elevators.

But the real problem was flash flooding.

A storm pattern bringing thunderstorms, heavy rain, hail and high winds moved across the Kansas City metro Saturday night. Flash flood and tornado warnings were issued for the region and thousands lost power. Most power had been restored by Sunday morning. 

Though there has been no major damage reported in Kansas City, the Clay County town of Mosby, Missouri, is under evacuation because of rising water, according to the Kansas City Star.

Jurassic fish reproducing once more in Missouri rivers

May 4, 2015

For the first time in 30 years, the Missouri Department of Conservation has confirmed evidence that the state-endangered lake sturgeon is reproducing in the wild.

Sam Hardy and Kristin Biagioli witnessed the sturgeon spawning first-hand in the Mississippi River north of St. Louis in mid-April.

Grant Bannister came to testify before the Kansas Legislature this week, traveling to Topeka from Alexander, in Rush County, population 65.

Bannister said his family had a typical Kansas farm — mostly wheat, some cattle. But he was addressing the Senate Utilities Committee about an entirely different income source.

“I grew up in rural Kansas, a simple farm boy,” Bannister said. “Now I'm selling wind energy to Yahoo.”

Bryan Thompson / Heartland Health Monitor

Five months after its grand opening, a massive new-generation ethanol plant in the southwest corner of Kansas is undergoing final adjustments as it prepares to begin full-scale production. The plant, built by a Spanish company with financing from the U.S. Department of Energy, is designed to produce clean-burning fuel — not from corn, but from the bits and pieces of crops left in farmers’ fields after harvest.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR

Soak up the sun while you can, Kansas City — the warm weather won't last.

Temperatures are expected to drop Thursday, with snow possible this weekend. Bummer, right? Not exactly, says Kansas State University climatologist Mary Knapp.

Knapp says too many warm nights in January can trick vegetation into thinking it's spring when there are still weeks of winter ahead. In this area, the last freeze is usually in April.

The following schools are closed, unless noted otherwise:

kcpl.com

Updated, 1:30 p.m.

According to an update on the KCP&L website: "We have restored nearly 90 percent of our affected customers. During the span of the storm, we had approximately 73,000 customers without power...Currently, we have approximately 6,500 customers remaining without power."

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Although there were no serious injuries reported in Monday night’s severe storms, rain and powerful wind gusts knocked out power for thousands across the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Last month was the fifth wettest June on record, and that has helped ease drought conditions across Kansas.

Assistant State Climatologist Mary Knapp says June was a critical month, because in parts of Kansas it's normally the wettest month. A lack of June rain would have meant Kansas missed a good chance to reduce the drought.

July is also a wet month in some areas, and Knapp says possible cooler weather this month could help further reduce the drought.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

If current forecasts hold, the Missouri River should fall below flood stage late Friday.

For weeks, the Army Corps of Engineers has been monitoring a stretch of the Missouri between Rulo, Nebraska, and Leavenworth, Kansas, after heavy rains fell upstream in South Dakota and Iowa.

On Thursday, though the river remained above flood stage in St. Joseph, Kansas City District Chief of Emergency Management Jud Kneuvean says the metro has been relatively fortunate.

Mike Rodriquez / Flickr User

Despite recent storms, parts of Missouri and all of Kansas are still experiencing some level of drought. What creates these extreme conditions, and how much rain does it take to bring us back to normal?

On Wednesday's Central Standard, we talk with Brian Fuchs, who explains the mechanics of a drought.

Guest:

  • Brian Fuchs​, Climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center

There probably isn’t enough tornado damage in Orrick, Mo., to qualify the small town 30 miles east of Kansas City for federal assistance.

Though the May 10 tornado ravaged homes and the local school, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says it's unlikely claims will top the $8.4 million threshold needed for federal disaster relief.

“We had a chance to tour the school today," says Nixon, who visited Orrick Wednesday. "The bottom line is that community, we’re working very hard to get the debris out of there.”

Wikipedia Commons

It’s that time of year when turtles become easy targets on Missouri and Kansas highways.

Turns out that male box turtles don’t know any better. They’re just out looking for mates, and that journey has them crossing busy highways where too often they become road kill.

In the final portion of Tuesday's Up to Date, Steve Kraske talks with a biologist from the Missouri Department of Conservation about those all too vulnerable turtles.

Guest:

Crazybananas / Flickr.com - CC

A hot, dry spring is sending mixed signals to Kansas climatologists trying to predict what kind of summer the Central Plains will have.

At the beginning of May, temperatures in Wichita, Kan., topped 100 degrees three times. Combine that with a lack of rain to the southwest, and crops across the state are starting to show signs of stress.

Wikimedia -- CC

What do rosaries, guitars and “Lord of the Rings” DVD box sets have in common?

They’re all objects that Kansas Citians said they would try to save if a tornado was on the way.

Given this week’s severe tornadoes across the United States, we used social media and the airwaves to ask you: What would you grab if a tornado was approaching?

We don’t advocate spending a lot of time scooping up material items if an incoming tornado is close to your home.

Finding The Origins Of Tornado Chasers

Apr 17, 2014
Ryan-O/Flickr-CC

The booming thunderstorms and crazy spring weather have moved in, and any Midwesterner knows what comes with them—tornadoes. Most of us retreat to basements when those sirens sound, but a select few take that as a cue to go hunting for the cyclones. 

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