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High winds create Dust Bowl effect over Wichita area

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at 6:37 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at 6:43 p.m.

The dust over Wichita got so thick Thursday afternoon that it reminded some people of photos from the 1930s Dust Bowl, or as meteorologist Brad Ketcham said, of the early 1950s, another time when the ground got dry and the dust flew.

Some of the particles in Thursday’s air likely came all the way from Nebraska, Ketcham said.

“If you look at the satellite view, you can see the plume of dust starting in southwest Nebraska and blowing on down through Great Bend, Wichita, and all the way to Winfield,” he said.

The dust got blown up into the atmosphere as high as 3,000 to 4,000 feet, producing not only the gray around us but the strange orange or gold sunset seen in some parts of the state.

A low pressure system that developed over the Great Lakes produced winds out of the northwest here, with gusts as high as 46 mph Thursday in Wichita, he said. Gusts in Salina and Russell reached 50 mph, he said.

With winds like that, the dry conditions, and many fields freshly broken up in autumn cultivation, the dust took off.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol shut down an eight-mile stretch of I-35 in northern Oklahoma near Blackwell because the dust storm caused near-blackout conditions and at least one multi-vehicle traffic accident. The highway patrol said visibility was less than 10 feet as gusts as high as 55 mph blew dust over the roadway.

Local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities.

Steve Austin, a county commissioner in the affected area, said visibility was terrible.

“It looked like a huge fog was over the city of Ponca City,” he said. “We’ve had dust storms before, but I don’t remember anything of this magnitude in years.”

The winds and dust were expected to diminish after sunset, Ketcham said. Friday, as the low pressure system over the Great Lakes moves east, the day should be mostly sunny with a high around 68.

The dust blew thick enough Thursday that “you could almost taste it in the air,” Ketcham said. “I’ve got a feeling, though, that everyone is going to need to do a car wash.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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