Pratt County storm spotters, emergency workers and interested others learned last year's storm statistics for Kansas on Monday at a National Weather Service meeting.
Tornadoes, hail, high winds, heavy rain, and lightning are the elements of spring storms in Kansas. While weather services use sophisticated equipment to analyze weather patterns, they depend on spotters in the field to bring them vital information on storm activity.
Jeff Hutton, warning coordinating meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Dodge City, addressed more than 35 people in Pratt on March 21 at the Community Center. Storm spotters, law enforcement and those just wanting information attended the session.
Hutton said there were no EF5 or EF4 tornadoes, the most violent tornadoes, in 2018 in Kansas and and that was unusual. There were 45 tornadoes and that is below the 30 year average of 95. Those tornadoes resulted in eight injuries but no fatalities.
Nation wide in 2018, there were around 1,150 tornadoes with evaluation ongoing. Like Kansas, there were on EF5 and no EF4 tornadoes any where in the U.S. In 2018, 10 tornado fatalities were recorded with a national average around 80.
In the Dodge City coverage area that covers the south central to southwestern tier of 27 counties, there were only 6 tornadoes reported, well below the 30 year average of 28, Hutton said.
One of the problems with tornadoes is when people hear a tornado siren, they go outside to see what is happening when they should be taking shelter. It’s best to check the weather on TV or an electronic device to determine exactly what is going on and seek shelter, Hutton said.
To emphasize his point, Hutton showed a video taken by a man who just stayed in place in his house rather than seek shelter. The tornado damaged the house and broke out windows.
Sometimes it’s not easy to see a tornado especially if they are rain wrapped or its night.
When a tornado threatens, get inside and take shelter underground if possible or in an interior room without windows on the lowest floor of a building. Get down and use something to cover the head, Hutton said.
It is not safe to stay in a vehicle, no matter the size. Avoid taking shelter at an underpass because winds actually get faster as they go through the underpass. Get to indoors shelter or if none is available and the vehicle is the only option, make sure seat belts are fastened, drive into a ditch and lay down below window level, Hutton said.
In Pratt, when severe weather threatens, sirens will sound and people should take cover. The county doesn’t sound an all clear so if a second siren sounds, it means there is more danger, said Tim Branscom, county emergency manager.
Tornadoes are not the only severe weather that can injure or kill. In 2018 across the U.S. there were 83 flood fatalities, on hail fatalities but 11 injuries, lightning killed 20, tornadoes 10 and thunderstorm winds caused 24 fatalities and 153 injuries.
Floods were the biggest cause of fatalities in 2018 nation wide. On the average floods kill more people every year than tornadoes or hurricanes. It may not look like water is running or it may not look very deep but it doesn’t take much water to float a car or pickup and the water could hide a washed out roadway, Hutton said.
Sometimes, there are barricades at flooded areas but not always so don’t risk driving through water.
There is a simple rule when facing flood waters: Turn Around Don’t Drown. In 2017, flooding killed 182 nationally. In 2018, 83 people were killed and 57 of those were in vehicles. Since 2000, there is an upward trend in flood fatalities and Hutton thinks it may be a false sense of security in bigger vehicles with four wheel drive.
In Kansas, there were three flooding deaths and all were in vehicles.
Severe weather also causes lightning. If a person can hear thunder, they need to take shelter because lightning can travel several miles from a thunder storm. Going inside a building, (metal buildings are good too) or vehicle is good protection. Avoid tall objects like trees, open water, hill tops and mountains. Lightning at outdoor sporting events can be very dangerous. Always check the weather forecast and have a plan on where to go if a thunderstorm develops.
If trapped in the open, get away from tall objects and other people and stand with feet together to reduce the number of contact points with the ground, Hutton said.
Hail can cause damage to vehicles, buildings and people. When hail starts, get inside because hail can cause serious injury. A map of large hail reports in 2018 revealed that Kansas was right in the middle of the heaviest reporting area.