Skip the navigation header

K-State Logo K-State Research and Extension logo
go to Research and Extension home page go to News go to Publications and Videos ask a question or make a comment search the Research and Extension site


News Logo Search News:   
News Home About Us Staff Links Contact Us

Released: January 30, 2006

Windy? Kansas? Well, Yes. And No

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The links between the wind and Kansas are long and strong. But, how real those links are can depend on viewpoint – no matter if the subject is the state’s wind-speed records, its “windy” name or its ties to the Dust Bowl.

“We have room for claiming Dodge City, Kan., is the windiest city in the United States. The newest analyses put Dodge’s historical annual average wind speed at 13.9 miles per hour,” said Mary Knapp, state climatologist, based with Kansas State University Research and Extension.

Room for that claim exists, however, only because the National Climatic Data Center develops its “windiest” list by comparing the long-term records of 275 weather stations. The current list puts Dodge City in sixth place and Amarillo, Tex., at eighth. Yet, Dodge is the first town. The other stations in the Top 10 are measuring-type equipment on mountaintops, islands and other isolated points, Knapp said.

“ Mount Washington in New Hampshire is No. 1 with an average annual wind speed of 35.1 miles per hour. The summit there also holds the surface wind-speed record of 231 miles per hour, set in 1934,” she said. “So, how windy Dodge City is, is rather relative.”

The Kansas cities of Goodland, Wichita and Concordia are in the NCDC’s top 30 windiest with annual averages of 12.5, 12.2 and 11.9 miles per hour, Knapp said.

Chicago, the self-proclaimed Windy City, is 74th with an average 10.3 miles per hour.

What’s in a Name?

Every Kansas school child learns the state’s name comes from an American Indian tribe known by the Sioux word for “people of the south wind” or “wind people.”

But, some experts point out the tribe’s name entered American history with more than 125 spellings, including Konza, Caugh, Ka-anzou, Kancez, Kansies, Quans and Escanzaques. They strongly suspect the original name – now written as Koln-Za or Kansa – may also have meant more to the ancient Sioux than just “wind people.”

Beyond that, today’s official Web site of the Kaw (Kansa) Nation in Oklahoma points out the tribe wasn’t native to Kansas. Until some time before 1750, they lived with related tribes in the Ohio Valley. So, their being wind people had no tie to Kansas’ weather.

End of the World?

Exploring in 1830, Isaac McCoy wrote an early record of a blinding Kansas wind storm, blackened with the soot and dust of a prairie fire.

By the 1870s, however, the Kansas Pacific Railroad had also put the state’s breeziness to use with a wind-powered handcar capable of traveling 25 miles an hour. Windmills were common. A Lakin Eagle newspaper writer joked that a 2-gallon funnel could gather enough Kansas “zephyrs” to drill a 180-feet hole in solid sandstone – easily producing a well with “condensed air.”

Kansas’ most famous tie to wind started with the 1900 publication of L. Frank Baum’s children’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – which Knapp said also established an image that is true, yet not true. Kansas has a secure place in the nation’s “tornado alley,” but isn’t the worst by any measure.

“Still, most Americans weren’t really paying much attention to the state’s winds until May 1934 – two years after the start of the worst round of drought-driven dust storms since the 1890s,” Knapp said. “High-level winds gathered enough momentum and soil to send 350 million tons of dirt as fast as 100 miles an hour toward the East Coast.

“The wind currents dumped an estimated 12 million tons of silt over Chicago. A day later, dust shrouded New York City for hours. Then it sprinkled ships more than 300 miles offshore. The storm originated in Montana and Wyoming, but East Coast papers called it ‘Kansas dirt.’”

A year later, the Dust Bowl got its name from a day still known in Kansas as Black Sunday.

“The drought didn’t end until 1940, but in many ways 1935 was the worst in Kansas,” Knapp said. “March brought back-to-back dust storms that could sandblast the paint from your house. People caught outside were vomiting up dirt clods. A 7-year-old boy suffocated in a drift. Dust derailed a train near Colby. Some ministers started preaching these were all signs of the coming apocalypse.”

Experts estimate western Kansas also lost twice the dirt moved in digging the Panama Canal.

Then early April brought a break and sunny, tranquil weather, Knapp said. Late on April 14, however, a huge and silent black cloud appeared on the horizon. It was the year’s worst dust storm. In that storm’s wake, cattle, wildlife and bird carcasses littered the landscape.

Robert Geiger, an Associated Press correspondent, witnessed the effects. He said Kansas farmers’ desperate hopes for rain “rule life in the dust bowl of the continent.”

“‘Dust Bowl’ caught on after that, but Kansans hated the words,’” Knapp said. “Their fathers had been through worse in the late 1800s, when some farm families died of starvation. They knew extreme weather has two sides and Kansas will keep offering both. So, most just hoped, prayed and endured.”


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Kathleen Ward
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Mary Knapp is at 785-532-6247