Wind scrapes across the plains of southwest Kansas like few places in the country.
It drives a booming new industry of turbines that feeds electricity across the region. But at times, the wind gets out of hand.
This week, it plowed across the landscape, causing trucks to swerve on highways, kicking up dust clouds and freeing family pets by knocking down fences.
With gusts hitting 55 mph, the National Weather Service issued several warnings for the region this week. Ray Burgert, a meteorologist for the agency, told people traveling in SUVs and campers to take special care. Such winds can take out semi-trailer trucks.
The winds also triggered an elevated wildfire risk across the high plains.
“We discourage that outdoor burning, especially with these winds,” Burgert said. “It’s easy for fires to escape control and containment can be difficult.”
High winds also strained southwest Kansas animal shelters. Dogs often escape during strong storms that topple fences.
Finney County Humane Society Director Nikkie Spanier said the group’s shelter expects an influx of pets during storms, so it has volunteers on call.
“We have lots of foster homes and we’ll call them and say, ‘Hey, we’re full right now. Can you take an animal or two?’” she said. “They’ll come in and they’ll take animals that are already available for adoption.”
Foster homes take in pets temporarily that are up for adoption to make room for animals picked up by community members and police officers during storms. Kansas state law requires shelters to hold a lost animal for three business days before it can be released to the owner.
Laura Stein, an animal control officer with Dodge City, said windstorms create tempting roaming conditions for huskies, collies and Labrador retrievers. Stein says other dogs like to avoid the wind and usually stay in dog houses.
Especially in cold weather, Stein said, “huskies like to run in the wind.”
In Ulysses, Kansas, animal control officer Kristy Gregorey said the town’s last windstorm resulted in seven people calling “saying their gates were down or that their dogs were loose.”
With a population of nearly 6,000 people, Ulysses animal control picks up almost 500 pets per year.
In Finney County, the number of pets coming to the shelter grows every year. In 2018, the shelter took in 3,100 animals and more than half were unclaimed strays.
Gregorey says pet owners should check their fences and gates when weather warnings are posted. But some inevitably break free and roaming animals get captured and taken to the county’s shelter.
“We’d rather them be brought in here” rather than abandoned in the countryside, Spanier said. “We are always accepting animals.”
Corinne Boyer is a reporter based in Garden City for High Plains Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and HPPR covering health, education and politics. Follow her @Corinne_Boyer.
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