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LIVE BLOG: Powerful winds cause widespread damage, fuel wildfires

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 10:49 AM CST
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(KWCH) - Wednesday night roundup: Evacuations continue in a few towns in northern Kansas as rapidly-moving grassfires threatened to damage homes and buildings. In Russell County, people in the unincorporated communities of Waldo, Paradise and Fairport were evacuated.

In Ellis County, crews fought to contain fire before it spread to the town of Ellis. In Lane County, the sheriff’s office credits teamwork for preventing wildfire from causing devastation. While there were at least two structure fires reported, impacted residents were safely evacuated. On its Facebook page, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office shared videos and photos of the emergency response, saying, “ This is the definition of a community, when emergency personnel, and farmers and ranchers work together to prevent the devastating spread of wildfires. Thank you to the farmers who provided the tractors with disc’s and the counties that provide assistance with their emergency personnel.”

The extreme weather featuring wind gusts reported up to 100 mph in a couple areas led to widespread power outages across Kansas Wednesday. Evergy reported at one point, 200,000 people were without power in Kansas and Missouri.

The Inman school district is among several joining the Salina school district and Great Bend High School in canceling classes Thursday due to damage from powerful winds with storms that roared through the state Wednesday.

With much calmer conditions anticipated Thursday, Eyewitness News will have coverage across Kansas, sharing stories from communities where cleanup efforts will soon be in full swing.

7:30 p.m. As winds begin to calm for much of the state, the threat of wild fire continues in several areas in north, northwest and western Kansas. As of 7 p.m., evacuations were underway in Russell County where crews were fighting a large wildfire. Russell County’s emergency manager reported the the towns of Waldo, Paradise, and Fairport have all been evacuated due to the growing fire. Evacuees are being sheltered at the Russell 4H building in Russell.

The Russell County fire is just one of many that sparked on Wednesday, fueled by high winds, some topping 100 miles per hour.

Midwest Energy, serving much of western Kansas, reports having power restored to about one-third of those who were in the dark from Wednesday’s storm. As of 7 p.m., Midwest Energy reported 21,400 locations without power, down from about 30,000 Wednesday afternoon.

“Crews have begun the process of re-energizing substations throughout the system,” the utility company said.

With storms past and conditions calmed, Midwest Energy in its 7 p.m. update said it expected to have power restored to most of its customers “in the next few hours.”

Meanwhile, viewer-submitted photos and videos are giving us a closer look at the situation in Salina where the school district called off classes Thursday. Video from Elm Street shows windows broken out of a building housing multiple businesses, as well as to several cars in an apartment complex’s parking lot.

Photos and a short video shared by Jimmy Phillips showed crews rescuing a truck driver and his dog from an overturned semi. Phillips said the driver and the dog were okay, but were checked out by paramedics on the scene on southbound Interstate 135 at Schilling Road.

Showcasing the impact from damaging winds on Dec. 15, 2021 in central Kansas, fire crews work...
Showcasing the impact from damaging winds on Dec. 15, 2021 in central Kansas, fire crews work to rescue a semi truck driver and a dog from this overturned rig near Interstate 135 and Schilling Road in Salina.(Jimmy Phillips)

6 p.m. As of about 5:40 p.m., the Kansas Department of Transportation opened both directions of I-70 in Kansas.

Numerous highways in western and south-central Kansas were closed for several hours today due to high winds, low visibility from blowing dust, downed power lines and crashes blocking the roadways.

All highways have now been opened traffic, but motorists should continue to use extra caution and avoid travel if possible. Some winds and blowing dust are expected to continue into the evening.

KDOT encourages travelers to “know before you go.” For up-to-date information on road closures and road conditions, visit www.kandrive.org, or call 511 in Kansas or 866-511-5368 outside Kansas.

4:10 p.m. As of about 3:50 p.m., the Kansas Department of Transportation has extended the westbound I-70 closure from Salina to the Colorado state line, the eastbound closure continues on I-70 from Goodland to Russell.

Numerous other highways in western and south-central Kansas are also closed because of low visibility from blowing dust and crashes blocking the roadways. The map below highlights the closures.

Most of the highways closed earlier this afternoon continued to be closed to the traveling public.

Additional closures should be expected to continue into the evening. For up-to-date information on road closures and road conditions, visit www.kandrive.org, or call 511 in Kansas or 866-511-5368 outside Kansas.

4:03 p.m. A wind gust of 100 miles per hour has been recorded in Russell, Kan. It’s the highest wind report so far in the state. Earlier in the day, a wind gust of 107 miles per hour was reported in Lamar, Colo. High winds have caused a lot of problems in Kansas and Colorado - contributing to a number of downed power lines, power outages, grass fires, structural damages and crashes due to heavy gusts and low-visiblity.

3:30 p.m. The Kansas Department of Transportation says its closing all highways in Barton, Pawnee, Rice and Rush counties because of low visibility caused by blowing dust. Check KanDrive.org for driving conditions.

3 p.m. Scott County Emergency Management says U.S. 83 is closed south of Scott City to Garden City. Fire crews are working two separate fires, one near Indian and K96, and the other on the Scott/Wichita county line. Drivers are asked to avoid unnecessary travel. Stay ahead of road closures on major highways at KanDrive.org.

2:10 p.m. The Kansas Department of Transportation has closed multiple roads in western Kansas, including I-70 from the Colorado state line to Russell, because of low visibility from blowing dust and crashes blocking the roadways. As of about 1:50 p.m. (subject to change) closures include:

In northwest Kansas:

  • I-70 in BOTH DIRECTIONS from the Colorado state line to Russell.
  • ALL state routes in the following counties: Cheyenne, Decatur, Gove, Logan, Rawlins, Sheridan, Sherman, Thomas and Wallace.

In southwest Kansas:

  • The KHP has closed U.S. 54 at milepost 33 about three miles east of Plains in Meade County due to low visibility.
  • All highways out of Ulysses closed due to blowing dirt – includes U.S. 160 east and west as well as K-27 north and south.
  • K-25 is closed at milepost 38 in Grant County, from the Stevens/Grant county line north to Ulysses due to traffic crash.
  • K-25 is closed in the city of Lakin due to debris on the highway.
  • U.S. 83 is closed about seven miles south of Garden City due to downed power line.
  • K-96 from the Colorado state line to K-27 at Tribune is closed.
  • U.S. 50 from K-27 to K-25 is closed.

More closures are occurring as the afternoon progresses. For up-to-date information on road closures and road conditions, visit www.kandrive.org, or call 511 in Kansas or 866-511-5368 outside Kansas.

1:50 p.m. A Tornado Watch has been issued for portions of north-central Kansas. The main focus for severe weather tonight is straight-line wind damage but you can’t rule out a brief tornado.

Due to damaging winds, the City of Ashland says it’s going to shut down the power for a couple of hours. Officials say there are multiple poles down coupled with the current weather, “we are going to turn off power to reduce the risk of fire. We thank you for your patience during this time.”

A wind gust of 84 miles per hour moved through Dodge City around 1:50 p.m. The National Weather Service likens the wind to that of a high-end EF0 on the tornado scale. KDOT advises several roads in the region have been closed due to low visibility and high winds. It may be advisable to stay home for the remainder of this evening.

In a tweet, Trooper Ben Gardner said troopers assigned to north-central Kansas (Troop C) are actively working four semi roll-over crashes due to the high winds.

"DUST BOWL 2021" This video from Main Street in Elkhart, Kan. is just one example of the severe conditions wind and dust are creating across Kansas. https://bit.ly/3dUNVIT #kwch12 #storm12 #kswx

Posted by KWCH 12 Eyewitness News on Wednesday, December 15, 2021

1:15 p.m. KWCH reporter Shawn Loging is near 21st and Oliver, where power lines are swaying. A gust of 84 mph has been recorded in Dodge City.

1:05 p.m. Another semi has turned over on I-70 near mile marker 262 in Saline County. Additionally, a semi blew over on K-61 near McPherson.

The Kansas Department of Transportation has closed in both directions from the Colorado border to exit 159 in Hays.

12:55 p.m. A semi is blown over on I-70 at mile marker 140 eastbound between Ellis and Wakeeney. One lane closed at this time!

12:45 p.m. Eastbound I-70 near milepost 229 is partially blocked due to overturned semi, according to Trooper Ben Gardner with the Kansas Highway Patrol. For a look at road conditions as you travel across Kansas, visit https://kandrive.org/

12:15 p.m.: There are reports of multiple fires in Garden City, suspected to be caused by downed power lines. Wind gusts of up to 88 miles per hour have been reported in town and in Finney County.

Westbound I-70 is temporarily closed near mile marker 43 in Thomas County due to a crash. There are also reports of crashes in Gove County and US-83 near Rexford.

Noon update: Due to the hazardous weather conditions, Garden City officers are not responding to non-emergency calls at this time. They will only respond to crimes in progress or emergency situations. There are reports of traffic hazards and downed power lines in Garden City, where an 84 mph wind gust was reported.

11:40 a.m. Update: An 83 mph hour wind gust has now been recorded in Leoti, Kan. in Wichita County.

Blowing dust is also hampering visibility along I-70 in northwest Kansas. The KanDrive.org cameras in Kanorado and Goodland show near-zero visibility. A semi has also been blown over in Sherman County.

Heads up! Wall of dust moving east from 13 miles S of Sharon Springs at the Wallace/Greeley county line. Image: Off-duty NWS Employee

Posted by US National Weather Service Goodland Kansas on Wednesday, December 15, 2021

SCHOOL CLOSURES

Ahead of Wednesday’s high wind warning several schools in western Kansas decided to cancel classes or go remote as a safety precaution. Wednesday morning, USD 266 Sylvan-Lucas Unified Schools announced it was dismissing classes and after-school activities due to the wind.

Due to weather conditions this afternoon Sylvan Unified Schools will dismiss at 1 p.m. today. Buses will run at 1 p.m. No after school activities today.

Posted by Sylvan-Lucas Unified Schools on Wednesday, December 15, 2021

For a check of all school closings, visit https://www.kwch.com/weather/closings/

ROAD CLOSURES

The Kansas Department of Transportation has closed US 54 between the Meade County and Seward County lines and KS 23 in Meade County due to low visibility caused by blowing dirt. You can find a live look at the storm as it blows through the state by tracking it on the KanDrive.org traffic cameras.

Zero visibility at time on Hwy 54 due to blowing dirt. Two semis have blow over between Meade and Plains........ DO NOT travel unless it's an emergency. Give our emergency responders some help, stay indoors.

Posted by Meade County Kansas Emergency Management on Wednesday, December 15, 2021

COMING FROM COLORADO

Less than an hour ago, a gust of up to 107 miles per hour was recorded in Lamar, Colorado.

Colorado resident David Roche captured a video of what he called an “apocalyptic winter storm swallowing Boulder this morning!”

The National Weather Service in Goodland said a 107 mph wind gust was observed in Lamar, Colorado, Wednesday morning.

The NWS said at 9:01 a.m. MST, a wall of dust was along a line extending from 18 miles northwest of Cheyenne Wells to 9 miles southeast of Brandon to 6 miles southwest of Walsh, moving east at 75 mph. Near-zero visibility with damaging winds in excess of 85 mph continues to be the main concern.

In Kansas, gusts are expected to reach 65-70 mph with sustained winds of 40-45 mph. Due to the dangerous winds, Storm Team 12 has issued a Weather Alert Day has been issued for most of the state.

This morning's weather update from Chip. Colorado has already logged a 100 mph wind gust behind the dryline.

Posted by Kansas Forest Service on Wednesday, December 15, 2021

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