“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin, a nineteenth-century English writer said that.
Of course, he did not witness the recent devastation of Hurricane Dorian.
Nor did he ever visit the plains of Kansas. I have referenced Kansas weather in earlier blogs, namely our cold, snowy winter in https://yearonthefarm.com/2019/04/03/its-springtime-on-the-farm/ and our wet spring in https://yearonthefarm.com/2019/06/26/be-careful-what-you-wish-for/.
Brace yourself. Today I will be writing about wind.
Wind is one of the feature characteristics of the plains of Kansas. With no mountains and few trees, there is little natural shield from the often-blustery prairie winds. This is not always a bad thing, however. I ask you, when the mercury climbs to the upper 90’s in the middle of a summer afternoon, would you prefer it to be still and sultry outside, or would you prefer a brisk, cooling breeze? On those days, most of us are grateful when nature’s fan is set on the “high” setting.
It’s only when the wind becomes destructive that I disagree with Ruskin’s assessment that “there is really no such thing as bad weather.”
Thanks to The Wizard of Oz, everyone is familiar with Kansas tornadoes. In fact, for many people, that movie is the first thing that comes to mind when people hear “Kansas”. I have, over the course of my lifetime, heard 758,931 Wizard of Oz jokes. Just recently, I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota to babysit my grandchildren. On my return flight, as I was checking in, the conversation went something like this:
Airport check-in guy: “Going to Kansas, huh?”
Airport check-in guy: “Hope you packed your ruby slippers!” (He chuckled heartily.)
At this point, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was referring to Dorothy and not the original owner of the slippers, who was, of course, the Wicked Witch of the East.
Me: “Oh! I get it. The Wizard of Oz. Good one!” (I also chuckled heartily.)
I did not tell him that I had just been told my 758,932nd Wizard of Oz joke.
The reality is, I have lived in Kansas, in “Tornado Alley” my entire life and have never been personally affected by a tornado. I have seen some, from a distance, but most were small, and did little damage.
The following photo was taken from our front porch one spring afternoon. When I saw it, did I rush to gather my valuables, and then seek immediate shelter in our basement? No, Silly, I ran to get my camera. How else would I get the photo?
Unless it is a massive wall cloud, or too dark or rainy to see the tornado, that is the response of most locals. The small rope tornado in the photo disappeared back into the clouds as quickly as it had appeared, and it did no damage.
Now don’t get me wrong. Tornados can do serious damage, and should not be taken lightly. On May 4, 2007, 95% of the town of Greensburg, Kansas was destroyed by a massive EF5 tornado 1.7 miles in width with wind speeds over 200 miles per hour. That tornado made history. You can read about it here: https://linkprotect.cudasvc.com/url?a=https%3a%2f%2fwww.ustornadoes.com%2f2017%2f05%2f04%2fmay-4-2007-night-maps-greensburg-kansas-redrawn%2f&c=E,1,fSTs2fhjj9rtkVzZVxypLq7v3keUoQN3-shsreT–MKB7DT7JnOyr8dMremniuBI3hQHwkda3pbMJc9fSGKuBzmjWUTDRfZzSgMTkke2gUO9o6r3o1VgToL3PT9N&typo=1
But every thunderstorm doesn’t produce a rotating tornado. Instead, straight line winds account for most of the wind damage that occurs.
Recently, we lost two trees in a thunderstorm that clocked winds of 78 mph for thirty minutes. I was watching from a protected window as one of the trees was nearly bent in half. Finally, it snapped.
“Well,” I told Danny, “we just lost another tree.”
That is one of the reasons there are so few trees on the prairie. Grasses don’t break in the wind.
But, in spite of the potential damage, there is nothing quite as awe-inspiring as the sight of a majestic thundercloud.
Especially if you’re not under it.
(I describe encounters with thunderstorms in the Palm Sunday chapter of A Year on the Family Farm, in the April chapter of Another Year on the Family Farm, and in the April chapter of The Return to the Family Farm. All of these books can be found at https://yearonthefarm.com/ )
Next Week: A Pictorial Tribute to Autumn, Part 1