Intense lows driving this spring’s potent winds — but that’s about to change

The Wichita Eagle

The winds of spring are routinely strong in Kansas, and this year has been no exception.

Gusts have topped 60 miles an hour around the state and have reached the mid-50s in Wichita. The steady diet of strong winds can’t be blamed on one cause, said Brad Ketcham, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service.

“It’s been a couple of different sources,” Ketcham said.

The strong winds are nature’s way of seeking equilibrium in the atmosphere’s pressure. If a low-pressure system sets up, winds rush toward the center of that low to equalize the pressure.

The closer a particular location is to the center of that low, the stronger the winds will be, Ketcham said.

Strong lows have set up along the Front Range of the Rockies or even in northwest Kansas, he said, which explains why the Sunflower State has endured such windy days so often in 2016.

A strong low is now camped over the Great Lakes, he said, which explains why Kansas is being swept by gusty winds out of the southwest this week.

“Everything is trying to balance itself out,” Ketcham said. “When you get these intense low-pressure systems, it takes more wind to balance things out.”

There have been lulls between the gales, he said, but those seem to go unnoticed by folks frazzled by the winds.

The strong winds are more noticeable now, he said, “because we’ve been so dry this spring.”

That has set the stage for numerous — and sometimes large — wildfires. Fire management officials have called 2016 “an unprecedented fire season” for Kansas, Ketcham said.

Fortunately, this pattern of strong winds is about to end, forecasters say. By the end of next week, Kansas appears poised to shift into a pattern that will see showers and thunderstorms rolling through the region on a regular basis.

That also means tornadoes will enter the conversation.

“It looks like our severe weather season gets going,” Ketcham said.

The rains will be welcome for a state that is now almost entirely in some degree of drought or at least dry conditions, he said. The downside to the pattern shift is the violent weather that may come with it.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger