Blame the Rocky Mountains.
That, weather officials say, is why wind is so much a part of Kansas weather — and why gusts of 50 to 60 miles an hour have been driving the unprecedented wildfires around the Sunflower State over the past several days.
“If the Rockies weren’t there, the weather would be — it would be so much different,” said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service. “It wouldn’t be as windy. We probably wouldn’t have as much severe weather as we do.”
Low-pressure areas tend to set up just east of major mountain formations, he said, and that routinely occurs in eastern Colorado. As the jet stream brings air over the Rockies, it tends to sink once it reaches the eastern side of the mountains.
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The air warms as it sinks, strengthening the low-pressure zone, which in turn intensifies winds because the atmosphere is trying to even out the differences in barometric pressure.
The result is wind gusts that read like speed limit signs for county roads: 58, 56, 54, 53. Wind gusts topped 60 miles an hour at times on Sunday in southwest Kansas as a wildfire spread from Oklahoma into Clark County. That fire eventually grew into the largest single wildfire in Kansas history, burning more than 500,000 acres in Clark and Comanche counties.
While winds should finally ease on Thursday and help exhausted firefighters over the next few days, Kleinsasser said, the winds will begin to ramp up again on Sunday — elevating the fire risk as they climb.
While the end of the week should bring the region’s first noteworthy rain in a while, it won’t do much to reduce the fire risk.
“Even if we do get a decent amount of rain, grass … doesn’t take very long to dry out,” Kleinsasser said.
And those gusty winds won’t stay away for long. It’s Kansas, after all, and spring is knocking on the door.