Rocky Mountains to blame for high wind gusts that spread multiple fires across the High Plains

Mar 9, 2017

Moderate winds carried smoke from a controlled burn south of Finney County, Kansas toward a feedlot Tuesday.
Credit Valarie Smith / High Plains Public Radio

The Rocky Mountains can be blamed for the 50 to 60 mile-per-hour wind gusts that spread an unprecedented number of wildfires in the Sunflower State and other areas of the High Plains region over the past several days.

As the Wichita Eagle reports, low-pressure areas tend to set up just east of major mountain formations and that routinely occurs in eastern Colorado.

Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service, said as the jet stream brings air over the Rockies, it tends to sink once it reaches the eastern side of the mountains. The air warms as it sinks, strengthening the low-pressure zone, in turn, intensifying winds because the atmosphere is trying to even out the differences in barometric pressure.

The result is wind gusts that are more reminiscent of speed limit signs on county roads – high enough to spread what’s being called the largest wildfire in Kansas’ history to spread from Oklahoma into Kansas earlier this week and burn more than 500,000 acres in Clark and Comanche Counties.

According to the Kansas Adjutant General’s office, fire crews continued to work at containing that fire, as well as fires in Reno and Rooks Counties on Thursday.

Since March 4, fires have been reported in 23 Kansas counties.