Archive for Thursday, March 16, 2006

Severe weather season begins wild

March 16, 2006

This year's Severe Weather Awareness Week started off with a powerful reminder of how quickly the weather can become deadly.

The National Weather Service's week, which began Monday to prepare the general public for severe weather, hadn't yet started when storms spawning several tornadoes ripped across the Midwest Sunday. But the storms were proof that though most Midwesterners have long dealt with the realities of spring storms, annual lessons on preparedness are necessary.

The week calls attention to the importance of having a plan and knowing where to go and how to seek shelter in a severe storm, according to Mike Hudson, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service at Pleasant Hill, Mo.

"What I tell folks to do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Hudson said. "If it is a quiet season, at least you knew what to do, and if it is an active season, then you were well prepared."

On Friday, while discussing the upcoming severe weather season, Hudson said that people need to be prepared for a tornado, but they should also be aware of the danger of thunderstorms with hail, flash floods and strong, damaging winds.

"Winds exceeding 100 miles per hour can produce tornado-like damage," Hudson said. "It's something we want people to be aware of because they are more common."

Hudson's statements proved prophetic for Sunday's weather, especially in Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan., where strong winds pulled down trees, broke windows and ripped off roofs.

The National Weather Service for Kansas City's Web site showed preliminary reports of 20 tornadoes touching down Sunday, most of them in Missouri, killing at least nine people. One was reported in southern Leavenworth County, and another on the Kansas/Missouri state line in eastern Kansas City, Kan.

The National Weather Service spent the last few days performing damage surveys in Pettis County, Mo., where the most significant damage was reported, as well as some of the other locations where tornadoes were reported.

Record years for tornadoes were recorded in 2003 and 2004, and though the 2005 severe weather wasn't as active, it was still more active than normal.

A total of 13 tornadoes touched down in the Pleasant Hill service area, just above the 50-year average of 11 tornadoes per year. Statewide, Missouri recorded 31 tornadoes, higher than its average 26.

Kansas recorded a state-record 135 tornadoes in 2005, breaking the record of 122 set just the year before. This is 80 above the normal yearly number of tornadoes in Kansas. The strongest tornadoes were rated F3s and touched down in Neosho and Trego counties. Only three were in eastern Kansas, two of them in Atchison and Leavenworth Counties April 21.

A tornado on Nov. 27 last year in Allen County, Kan., as well as several on the same day in Missouri, were the second-latest tornadoes in a calendar year ever recorded.

"That goes to show you that severe weather is not just a springtime phenomenon," Hudson said.

Hudson said with the temperature fluctuations, this year has set up so far to have another active severe weather season.

"There are no real strong indications that it will be any busier than a typical year," Hudson said, "but we have gotten off to an early start, which sometimes is a good indication."

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