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Drought, Wind Create Dust Storms in the High Plains

Author: Kristy

MAY 1, 2014
By: Associated Press

Dust storms are traveling across the plains thanks to drought and windy conditions.

Dust storms are traveling across the plains thanks to drought and windy conditions.
By: Roxana Hegeman, Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Seemingly unrelenting winds and drought conditions have whipped up massive dust storms this week across the High Plains, but respite is near since the weather system that’s to blame has moved east into the Great Lakes and Northeast, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.

Blowing dust is blamed for the zero-visibility conditions in central Kansas that caused a traffic accident in which a man died Monday. Stanton County schools in far western Kansas also cancelled classes and activities Tuesday. The wind is also affecting winter wheat by sucking up the little moisture that had been in fields.

Monday’s dust storm was so large it covered most of Kansas, western Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and eastern Colorado, said weather service meteorologist Jeff Hutton in Dodge City. Tuesday’s dust cloud was more localized, only found in some parts of Kansas.

“That is what happens when you get drought, a lack of vegetation and you have wind,” Hutton said. “I mean, that is just the nature of the High Plains. And then that dirt that was lofted is eventually carried into eastern Kansas.”

Kansas is dry so far this year, but not anywhere near what it was during the 1930s and 1950s, he said. Much of the dirt has blown in from eastern Colorado, where it is drier, but a lot is also coming from Kansas fields that have been plowed, Hutton said.

On his central Kansas farm, Tom Giessel said the high winds coupled with dry conditions have been tough on crops. Giessel has recorded just a little over an inch and a half of rain since January; normally, he would have had well over 5 inches by this time of the year.

His stunted wheat, which is under irrigation, has not been this short since 1989, he said.

“Yeah, it’s damn dusty,” he said, adding he stays inside on his farm, which is seven miles northwest of Larned, when it gets that bad. “I don’t remember having that many consecutive days with high winds.”

The ground is so dry that he is planning to plant about 40 percent of his normal amount of row crops. The only reason he says he is planting any corn at all is because he had already bought the seed and could not return it.

“My father always told me, ‘Don’t look at the calendar, you farm according to the weather,’” Giessel said. “And now I kind of changed to where I farm according to the climate because of the way our climate I think has shifted with heat and the boundaries have been stretched.

“There is more uncertainty … than there has been in the past and so I am making some shifts in how I operate,” he said. “The inputs for these crops are way too pricey to just be rolling the dice that it is going to rain.”

The dust storms are negatively impacting winter wheat crops, eroding the soil and exposing the roots, said Don Keeney, an agricultural meteorologist with the Maryland-based commodity risk firm MDA Weather Services. That will cause crop conditions to decline more rapidly, particularly since the forecast calls for the cool weather to warm rapidly in the coming days before rain late next week.

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