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Forces of Nature - Part 2

Blizzard in downtown Topeka, circa 1900Wind

Kansas is a windy state.  Gentle breezes on the plains can quickly be followed by violent windstorms.

"The Grim Frost King"

Tremendous blizzards can blanket the plains with ice and snow.  Such storms are a hazard to any living thing caught in the freezing winds.


Kinsley newspaper during 1886 blizzard.

The blizzard of 1886 was one of the worst in Kansas history. Blowing snow and freezing temperatures caused the death of nearly 75% of cattle in some parts of Kansas.  Several large cattle companies were bankrupted before the spring thaw.

The town of Kinsley hosted several hundred passengers when a blizzard trapped trains there.  Stranded travelers passed the time by producing a newspaper called The B-B-Blizzard.  They thanked Kinsley residents for their hospitality, which included a concert and dinner.

Winter winds in Kansas can whip even small amounts of snow into a blizzard.  When ten inches or more falls in a storm, the results can be disastrous for travelers.  Snowplows cannot keep the roads clear and safe until winds have died down.

Snow gate from Interstate 70 in western Kansas.For that reason, every ramp on Interstate 70 in Kansas from Kanorado to Russell has snow gates.  When winter weather becomes treacherous, the Kansas Department of Transportation closes these gates to keep traffic off the interstate.  This snow gate closed exit ramp 17 at Goodland in extreme western Kansas. 


Seward County wind farm, 1910.Harnessing the Wind

Kansas settlers had to deal with almost constant wind.  Faced with this challenge, they adapted to their new home. 

  • They learned to live with the wind, and
  • harnessed it for useful purposes.

Kansans have long used wind power to pump water, grind grain, and generate electricity.  When farmers on the Kansas plains found wind more plentiful than water, they put up windmills to pump water from underground.  This Seward County ranch used 10 windmills to pump water into a large tank, most likely for cattle.  Most farms only had one or two windmills.

Windmills made entirely of metal were introduced by 1870 and soon became the most common type sold.  Metal withstood the fierce Kansas winds much better than wood.  The Currie company built metal windmills in Topeka from around 1900 until the late 1940s.

Spearville wind farm.  Courtesy of Kansas City Power & Light, photo by Lyndall Blake.Today Kansans are still harnessing the wind, but with wind turbines instead of windmills.  Large, commercial wind farms, like this one outside Spearville, are now producing electricity for use by Kansas and other states.

Kansas ranks in the top ten U.S. states in its potential to produce wind energy.




Forces of Nature is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. Tornadoes - These storms are a Kansas icon
  2. Wind - Kansas is a windy state
  3. Earth - Sometimes our rich soil becomes airborne
  4. Water - Too much or too little is a problem
  5. Fire - Grasslands depend on fire

Interactive Games

Test your knowledge by playing our interactive games.

Contact us at KSHS.KansasMuseum@ks.gov