The pictures were mesmerizing, the message straightforward as Jeff Hutton, Dodge City National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, presented a severe weather storm spotters review Tuesday afternoon and evening in anticipation of severe weather season fast approaching Kansas.
Hutton covered several weather events including lightning, flash floods, high winds, hail and tornadoes. Safety was the main topic and what people needed to do in the event of any of these severe weather events.
Flash floods made the news a lot in 2013 including an incident in Kansas where a school bus was swept off a road and turned over onto its side in a creek. No one was killed in the incident but it did provide a vivid reminder that it doesn’t take much flowing water to get a vehicle to float.
Any time someone comes upon water across the road they should follow the NWS motto of “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”
While the U.S. recorded 85 flash flood deaths in 2013, lightning accounted for 26 deaths and 234 injuries. The rule for lightning is simple, if a person can hear thunder, lightning can strike them no matter how far away the storm is located.
If a person is struck, they will more than likely survive but have some reoccurring health issues.
If a storm approaches and thunder is present, take shelter immediately in an enclosed vehicle or indoors, Hutton said.
Don’t stand under trees or near tall poles. Make sure the feet are together and not spread a part. It creates only one grounding point if the feet are together and reduces the possibility of getting struck.
Hutton showed photos of people standing on mountains with their hair standing on end, a sure sign that lightning is possible. The people were not struck but they were lucky, Hutton said.
High wind can be dangerous too. High winds can overturn a mobile home so they should be abandoned during a severe storm event. They are especially dangerous during tornadoes.
Hail can also cause injuries and even death if a large stone hits a person in the head so seek shelter during a hailstorm.
Tornadoes remain one of the most violent storms on the planet, Hutton said.
In the event of a tornado, seek shelter underground and then get under something heavy like a strong table and cover the head. If no basement or storm cellar is available, go to the lowest floor of the house and get inside the smallest room with no windows and get down. The smallest room has the closest walls and provides the best protection.
Get out of vehicles and abandon mobile homes. Vehicles can be lifted up and thrown for long distances. However, if absolutely no other shelter is available, get in the vehicle and duck down below the window level.
The best protection from tornadoes is advance warning. If bad weather is in the area, listen to the radio or watch TV or get and use a NOAA weather radio. Multiple sources of media are the best way to stay informed.
Also, tornado sirens are designed to alert people outdoors and not meant for people inside houses or buildings so don’t depend on hearing tornado sirens to take cover.
When a tornado warning is given, it means it’s time to take shelter. Don’t wait, it could only be a few moments before a tornado strikes, Hutton said.
Don’t go look to see if a tornado is coming and don’t go chasing. Chasing is dangerous and even the professionals get into trouble like they did in 2013 when several seasoned chasers were killed in Oklahoma.
The Kansas tornado season in 2013 was unusual for several factors. It was the seventh shortest tornado season (128 days from first tornado of the season to the last tornado of the season) with a late first tornado day (April 7 in Russell County) and an early last tornado day (Aug. 13 in Lane County). Both tornadoes were EF0, the weakest level, Hutton said.
The quietest tornado season was in 1976 with just 14 tornadoes.
The state recorded just 56 tornadoes. That is five lower than the 1950-2013 average, 25 below the 30-year average and 53 below the 10-year average. No tornado fatalities and only one injury were recorded in Kansas in 2013.
Nationally, the US recorded 899 tornadoes in 2013 with 55 deaths, Hutton said.