Wind blows Wichita’s WaterWalk fountains off schedule

06/24/2013 6:16 PM

10/09/2013 2:53 PM

Jane Taylor and her husband went to the WaterWalk fountains downtown this weekend, expecting to see a colorful water display synchronized with music.

They got the music but not much else.

“It was very disappointing,” she said.

Blame it on a very windy weekend, city officials said.

While the downtown fountains just east of Gander Mountain have had their mechanical troubles during their short time in Wichita, this apparently wasn’t one of them. Wind sensors prevented fountains from spouting streams of water, said John D’Angelo, director of arts and cultural services for the city.

Depending on the music’s strength, the streams are designed to go as high as 150 feet.

But when sustained winds reach 20 mph, the fountains and light show shut off, he said. When winds hit 10 mph, the water streams are reduced by one-third.

“It’s a water conservation piece as well as to keep the audience dry,” D’Angelo said. “Wind has been our issue all along.”

He said winds also prevented some of the scheduled shows the previous weekend, when the $3.5 million fountains made their season debut after being off all spring because of the drought. Some adjustments will be made to allow the fountains to operate with slightly stronger winds, he added.

Besides drenching people, blowing water also reduces the pool level, and that could shut the fountain down, D’Angelo said.

A city water conservation plan has set an abbreviated schedule for the fountains of two 10-minute shows at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the end of June. The Sunday shows will be eliminated from July through the end of August, but they will return after that until the end of October.

There were no water or lights for Friday’s early show, but they came on for that night’s second show.

The Taylors came for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. show, but only the music played. They tried Sunday’s 9:30 p.m. show and waited with about 50 other people.

“We had a musical concerts of sorts but no lights and no waterworks,” she said.

Finally, the music was joined with streams of water and lights for the last 10 seconds of the show.

The lights and water are set to come on together, but only if the sustained wind speed is low enough, D’Angelo said.

“We can deal with gusts,” he added.

But this is Kansas, and windy days are the norm.

Figures from the National Weather Service in Wichita couldn’t give the exact parameters for the scheduled show times and required wind speeds to turn the fountains on, but the service came close.

Between 7 and 10 p.m. from June through September at the service’s station near Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport, the wind averages 15 mph or more 39 percent of the time, meteorologist Scott Smith said. It’s below 15 mph the remaining time during those time frames.

As it is now, the fountains are surrounded by a lot of open space. Long-range plans for the WaterWalk development have called for more buildings, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“As more is developed around the fountains, some of that wind will get blocked by the buildings,” D’Angelo said.

The fountains had been in storage since they were purchased by the city in 2009 while the WaterWalk master plan underwent changes. The fountains were unveiled in October for a brief fall season.

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