For the week of Mar. 5, 2018

Storm fury on the Kansas Plains

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

Every seasoned Kansan knows we live in smack-dab in the middle of tornado alley. The Heartland of America boasts one of the most tornado active regions in the world.

If you’re like me, you’ll never forget May 4, 2007. On that fateful day the town of Greensburg, in Kiowa County, was all but wiped off the face of the earth. This EF5 tornado demolished the small Kansas community of 1,500 killing 11 people and injuring dozens more.

Ninety percent of the town was destroyed including 961 homes and businesses. Another 216 received major damage. Wind speeds more than 200 miles per hour accompanied this storm.

This killer tornado roared through Comanche and Kiowa counties for 26 miles and ranged nearly two miles wide at one time resulting in damage in $250 million worth of damage.

Other killer tornadoes occurred that day with a death in Pratt County and another in Stafford County. Eleven tornadoes occurred on May 4.

The next day another 36 tornadoes rampaged across Kansas, falling just short of the record of 39 tornadoes in one day set in June 1992.

The Sunflower State nailed down a record 137 twisters in 2007 with 137 tornadoes ripping through Kansas.

Sixty tornadoes occurred in Kansas in 2017. This is near the long-term average, but well below more recent 10 and 20-year averages.

Fortunately, no tornado-related fatalities occurred in Kansas last year, but two injuries were reported. Both injuries happened May 16 as an EF3 tornado tracked for 26.64 miles across Pawnee and Barton counties. This tornado was also the costliest at an estimated $658,000.

The most active month in 2017 transpired in May with 29 tornadoes observed. This is 98 tornadoes below the one-month record high (127 in May 2008). April, May, and June, typically the core of the tornado season, remained quiet last year.

As tornado season approaches, it’s important to remember to tune in, stay informed and keep an eye on the sky.

Remember, pay attention when you hear a tornado watch because this means severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible over a wide area. Tornado warnings are issued when Doppler radar indicates tornadoes are forming or a trained weather spotter has sighted a twister. This warning will tell the location, and if possible, movement, estimated speed and the towns in the tornado path.

Think ahead during this upcoming severe weather season. Listen to forecasts daily, key into local weather conditions in your area. Know where your nearest shelter is and remember when a tornado threatens, immediate action may save you and your loved ones’ lives.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.