Wednesday, February 10, 2010

People of the Wind

"The fretful wind,
the whimpering wind,

The wind that is never still
Comes lustily into his own at last
On this far, high hill."
(From: "The Wind" by Esther M. (Clark) Hill)

Sometimes friend, sometimes foe, the wind has played an integral part in Kansas history and continues to be an important influence on our economy, culture, literature and persona.

We are "The People of the South Wind" according to most translations of the word Kansa, the Native American tribe for which our state was named. Whether a true translation or not it fits us. Most Kansans constantly have an eye and/or an ear to the skies and to the wind. The wind's turn can mean a sudden change to rain, snow, or extreme cold. It can drive devastating tornadoes, dust, blizzards, or be a source of power to drive an economy. It speaks to us in roaring gales or soft murmuring breezes. Songs, poems and stories reflect the power of the Kansas wind while photographs show vistas of windblown prairies resembling ocean waves flowing up and down across the landscape. We are most assuredly a people of the wind.

So let's take a look at the wind as it has shaped Kansas through the years. The links below will touch on the wind as a force in general covering many topics. Specific topics such as tornadoes and dust storms will be covered more in-depth later in this series.

Kansas Wind Resource Map
(Enlarge the map using the percentage drop down box at the top. The colored graphics in the legend on the right hand side indicate average wind speeds around the state)

And the windiest winner is......
According to the National Climatic Data Center's list of annual average wind speeds, the windiest U.S. city is Dodge City, Kansas, with an average speed of 13.9 mph. Other windy cities include Amarillo, Texas (13.5 mph) and Rochester, Minnesota (13.1 mph.). The windiest "big" cities are New York City (LaGuardia Airport) and Oklahoma City, which both have an average annual wind speed of 12.2 mph.

When Kansas Winds Blow, by Gail Lee Martin
(Personal reminiscences and observances of the wind in Kansas)

Thunderstorm in Hamilton County, 2009 (YouTube video)
(Wind and rain lash across Hamilton County, Kansas)

Dust, fire
and snow driven by the Kansas wind can wreak havoc on anything in its path.

Picture of a Family in a Wind Storm
(An 1874 graphic from Harpers Weekly shows a family in a covered wagon being buffeted by a Kansas gale. From: Kansas Memory)

Dust Storms, by James C. Malin
Part I, 1850-1860
Part II, 1861-1880
Part III, 1881-1900
(Dust in the wind is not limited to popular music and the 1930s. Dust storms have been a part of the Great Plains ecology for many years. From issues of the Kansas Historical Quarterly transcribed at the Kansas Collection website)

Kansas in the 1930s, by Clifford R. Hope, Sr.
Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 1970)
(The ill winds of the economic collapse of 1929 were magnified by the winds that brought dust storms to much of Kansas during the 1930s. From: KSHS)

U.S. Dust Bowl of the 1930's
(A short YouTube oral history of an approaching dust storm's effects)

Curbing the Wind, by L.C. Archer
(The dust storms of the early 1930s awakened a greater understanding of wind erosion and the need for preventive measures in agriculture. From: Kansas Memory)

Kansas Dust Storm 2004

2004 Kansas Dust Storm
(Dry top soil and high winds combine to give an eerie 1930s flashback in 21st century western Kansas)


With the power of the wind behind it a fire on the prairie can sweep over farms, livestock, towns and people in a matter of minutes

The Prairie Fires in Kansas
(An 1893 article from The New York Times of devastating prairie fires in Kansas.)

Lincoln County, Kansas, remembers the prairie fires of 1890
(Transcribed articles from local papers at the Lincoln County KSGenweb site)

Officially, the National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a storm which contains large amounts of snow OR blowing snow, with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for an extended period of time (at least 3 hours)

Blizzards in Comanche County, Kansas
(Reminiscences of wind-driven, blinding snow storms in Comanche County)

The Blizzard of 1886
(Historic information from the Ellsworth Independent Reporter)

Late March Blizzard, 2009


Wind erosion in Dickinson CountySoil erosion can be a “slow death” for fields in Kansas robbing farms of valuable topsoil. The graphic to the left, from the US Department of Agriculture, shows wind erosion next to a wheat field in Dickinson County.

Three Wind Erosion Videos (YouTube)
(Turn your sound down for these though it does give you an auditory wind experience. It may look like dull viewing, but imagine the tons of topsoil at risk across the state)

Principles of Wind Erosion and its Control
(Pamphlet from Kansas State University Dept of Agronomy giving information on wind erosion and how to retain soil on land)


Wind turbines in Ellsworth CountyKansans have been taking advantage of the wind since territorial days in providing water and now energy resources. The graphic to the left shows wind turbines along I-70 in Ellsworth County.

The Farm Windmill
(Kansas Memory gives us views of windmills across the state through the years. Harnessing the power of the wind, farm windmills provided household water needs, irrigated some crops and watered livestock)

(From: “Reflections From the Prairie” at the Kansas Collection)

Kansas Wind and Prairie Task Force
(The Wind and Prairie Task Force (WPTF) was established by the State Energy Resources Coordination Council (SERCC), at the request of then Governor Kathleen Sebelius. The Task Force was charged to develop principles, guidelines, and tools that local entities can use as they address the issues concerning wind-energy development in the Flint Hills and other environmentally sensitive areas)

Wind Energy in Reno County
(Wind turbines provide energy to power homes, farms, public buildings and businesses. A promotional video about the development of wind power in Kansas)

Setting up the Greenbush Wind Turbine
(YouTube video from the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center in Greenbush, Kansas)

Construction of Spearville Industrial Wind Turbine Power Plant
(This video has no sound but it gives a detailed look at the construction of a large "wind farm" site near "The City of Windmills," Spearville, Kansas)

Concern Expressed about Wind Power Development
(Audobon of Kansas, among others, expresses concern about wildlife, land ecology and the conservation of areas such as the Flint Hills in regards to construction of wind turbines across the land)

Kansas Wind Energy Projects
(From the Kansas Energy Information Network)

Wind Turbines and Amber Waves of Grain (YouTube video)
(A calming look at two Kansas bumper crops: wheat and wind)

Kansans have described the wind in many different ways in song, story and verse. Here are a few samplings of verbal visions of the wind:

The Song Of The Wind And The Leaves - Ed. Blair
Meadow Lark and Prairie Wind - Ann Reece Pugh
Wind In The Treetops - Louisa Cooke Don-Carlos
The South Wind - C. P. Slane
Prairie Wind - Thomas E. Moore
Song Of The Four Winds - Esther M. (Clark) Hill
Song - May William Ward
Winds at Night - May William Ward
The Prairie Pioneers - Willard Wattles
The Wanderer - Esther M. (Clark) Hill

Poems from the Kansas Poets website
Bluestem Breeze - Phillip Albert King
Seasonal Dichromatic - Ellen Drake
Gift - Lois Virginia Walker

The Kansas Poems of Kenneth Wiggins Porter
(From: Center for Kansas Studies, Washburn University. Take note of the selection from Porter's poem, "The Ghosts of the Buffalo," which speaks to the misguided concept of "conquering" the land rather than living with it)

And what look at the Kansas wind would not be complete without the story which has defined us for decades? Love her or hate her, Dorothy Gale means Kansas to people around the world... and her little dog too!
“The Cyclone” from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
(The first chapter of the book, later adapted in various film versions, that has defined the Kansas persona. From The Kansas Collection)

Article contact: Bill Sowers

1 comment:

  1. Awesome collection...thanks for compiling! (Dust in the Wind is one of my favorite songs...guess that kind of dates me.)