Every once in a while, Sharon Watson scans the Kansas skies, waiting for swarms of locusts or other biblical plagues.

Who could blame her?

"At this point, most of us here are expecting just about anything," said Watson, director of public affairs for Kansas Emergency Management. "We're all kind of wondering, 'What's next?' "

Severe weather has been so widespread in Kansas in the first half of 2007 that only three of the state's 105 counties -- Marion, Atchison and Jefferson -- have not been subject to a disaster declaration by either county, state or federal officials.

"We are beginning to wonder what has brought Kansas to the focal point" of severe storms, Watson said. "We have certainly gotten every type of storm you can have, with the exception of hurricane -- and we hope we don't have one of those."

Winter storms and spring tornadoes have caused more than $1 billion worth of damage, much of it in rural areas that were already struggling to survive economically. The state and federal governments have already spent more than half that on recovery efforts. Insurance companies report claims in the hundreds of millions.

Assessment of the most recent flooding shows some 3,100 homes and businesses in five counties have been destroyed or heavily damaged -- but there are still 15 counties in the disaster area to assess, and dollar losses have yet to be calculated.

And though government and insurance payouts ease the pain -- and even boost local economies for a while -- that's energy and money not being spent elsewhere.

Kind of like replacing your furnace instead of putting in that upstairs addition.

"Any time wealth is destroyed, we're all poorer," said Art Hall, director of the University of Kansas' Center for Applied Economics.

Unprecedented damage

The federal government makes disaster declarations only in cases where it deems the devastation so extensive that communities and states cannot recover on their own.

On Friday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she hasn't ruled out calling the Kansas Legislature into special session to deal with the flooding, as lawmakers did to craft a long-term relief package for Greensburg. She said she isn't sure the state has enough disaster relief funds.

And the short-term financial burden is significant.

A blizzard and ice storm that paralyzed much of western Kansas in late December and early January was the state's costliest-ever natural disaster.

It caused an estimated $360 million in damage to infrastructure such as roads, power lines and utility poles, state officials said. It also led to 44 counties being named in a major disaster declaration by President Bush.

On May 4, a massive tornado leveled Greensburg in Kiowa County. The 1.7-mile-wide tornado killed 10 people, injured dozens more and damaged or destroyed nearly 1,000 homes. Other tornadoes killed three more people the nights of May 4 and 5.

Insured losses in Greensburg have reportedly topped $150 million. To date, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration have approved $42.5 million in assistance related to the storms, the state Division of Emergency Management said Saturday.

"Those two storms alone have left an unprecedented mark on the state in terms of damage and destruction," Watson said of the winter storm and the Greensburg tornado.

When the rains came, they kept coming for two months.

Flooding struck central Kansas in May and southeast Kansas in late June and early July. In Coffeyville, which sits in a bend of the Verdigris River, the flooding was topped off by an oil spill from the local refinery.

"All I can tell you is that I have my staff very busy researching the length of a cubit" -- the unit of measurement Noah used to build his ark, deadpanned Randy Duncan, emergency management director for Sedgwick County.

Wichita saw double its average rainfall in June, but escaped major flooding.

Living with bad weather

Duncan said the year should serve as a wake-up call.

"It reminds us that we live in a place where we have very active weather in almost every season," he said. "There are hazards associated with each of those seasons, and we need to be mindful of that."

People need to ask themselves three questions about the weather in Kansas, Duncan said:

- How many different ways can it get bad?

- How bad does it get when it does get bad?

- How vulnerable are we when it does get bad?

Duncan said residents and officials alike need to make contingency plans in the event power is out for an extended period, such as from a blizzard; or if they have to evacuate on short notice, such as in a flood; or if they need to take shelter from an approaching tornado.

Government officials have had far too many opportunities to gauge their ability to handle disasters this year, and Duncan offered a prediction.

"You will see more local governments pay more attention to financing emergency management activities," he said.

Rebuilding communities

Whether the affected communities can bounce back depends on their previous economic health, according to Robert Olshansky, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois.

Communities ravaged by floods or tornadoes often are rebuilt with better amenities -- a new city hall or more energy-efficient homes, for instance.

But Olshansky said that's not likely to alter challenges like a loss of agricultural jobs.

"If these were aging communities, shrinking towns, then the disaster is probably not going to change that," Olshansky said. "In principle, there's a great opportunity to make a dramatic improvement, but usually after disasters, most of those things don't happen."

Long-range forecast

The long-range forecast for the remainder of the summer does not call for either extreme moisture or dryness, according to Derek Deroche, meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Pleasant Hill.

Climatologists say no single explanation -- be it global warming or El Nino -- can be blamed.

The ice storm was bolstered by a strong jet stream, while the floods and tornadoes were the result of a weaker jet stream and moisture from the Gulf, said Anthony Lupo, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Missouri.

Bottom line: It's nothing new. It's just a lot all at once.

Thankfully, Kansas has avoided one natural disaster that once wreaked havoc across the Plains.

In the 19th century, locusts caused extensive agricultural damage -- even eating the clothes off farmers' backs -- and prompted the first special session of the Kansas Legislature in 1874. One swarm came after the Legislature voted to discontinue funds for the House chaplain.

The next year, lawmakers made sure to pay the chaplain.