Jeff Hutton, a warning coordinating meteorologist from the Dodge City National Weather Service, presented storm spotter facts and figures along with video to storm spotters from across Pratt County on March 15.
Eyes on the ground are critical part of severe weather forecasting. Jeff Hutton, National Weather Service warning coordinator meteorologist in Dodge City, reminded a group of storm spotters in Pratt March 15 that their information was vital to the national weather service.
About 35 storm spotters including law enforcement, firefighters and private citizens were on hand for Hutton's presentation on the various forms of dangerous weather conditions including flooding, high wind, hail, lightning and tornadoes.
When spring storms develop, people need to pay attention to weather conditions and take appropriate action when severe weather threatens.
Hutton said there is an upward trend in people drowning in flash floods over the past few years and about half of those fatalities were people in vehicles. More SUVs and vehicles with four-wheel drive could be a factor in the increase in drownings in vehicles.
Hutton showed several videos of vehicles driving into water running across roadways and the vehicles getting swept away. It doesn't take a lot of water to float a vehicle.
Six inches will reach the bottom of the vehicle and can cause a loss of control or stalling. A foot of water will float many vehicles and two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles and pickups.
If a person gets carried away in a vehicle, it puts not only them but the people that have to rescue them in danger. The best thing to do is do the following when water is moving across the road, "Turn Around, Don't Drown."
Lightning is also a dangerous product of severe weather. If thunder can be heard, its time to move indoors or get inside a vehicle with the windows up and the doors shut. It is best to stay inside the vehicle, especially if an electric wire is on the vehicle, unless it is dangerous to do so. If a person must leave the vehicle, they need to bunny hop and not walk to reduce the chance of being struck.
There were 38 lighting deaths in the U.S. in 2016 but none in Kansas, Hutton said.
If a person is hit by lightning, they can suffer cardiac arrest or stop breathing. These people don't retain any electricity so they can receive CPR that can be helpful and may save their life, Hutton said.
Hail is a danger in severe weather. If hail is falling, take shelter and stay away from windows.
Tornadoes are a dangerous part of severe storms. On this 10-year anniversary of the May 4, 2007 tornado that destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, the events of that night are a sober reminder that tornadoes are dangerous and people need take cover when a storm threatens.
There were 102 tornadoes reported in Kansas in 2016 with 12 injuries and no fatalities.
Storm chasing has become more and more prevalent over the years with some chasing for their own pleasure while some have made a business out of taking groups of people out to possibly see a tornado.
While chases enjoy the thrill, it is a dangerous business and should taken seriously. Hutton provided several tornado videos that provided graphic images of the power and destructive power of tornadoes.
In one tornado video, the person making the video did not take shelter but continued to video as the tornado hit and destroyed the house, injuring him and killing his wife and a neighbor, Hutton said.
In another tornado video, the person making the video, this time from a vehicle, again did not leave but continued to video as the tornado overtook the vehicle. The person survived but was injured.
If a tornado is coming toward a vehicle, it can usually outrun the tornado but action needs to be taken immediately. Tornadoes can change intensity, size and direction very quickly so don't wait for the tornado to get close before taking cover, Hutton said.
An underground shelter is best or under heavy furniture in the basement. If those aren't available, a small, enclosed room with no windows in the middle of the house on the lowest level is a good option. Do not stay in mobile home. Do not stay in a vehicle because they can be picked up and thrown in a tornado.
Hutton said during potential weather situations, pay attention to television and radio information and take shelter immediately if a warning is sounded. Don't go looking for the tornado.
A weather radio is a valuable tool for keeping up with current weather conditions. They work independently of radio and TV stations and will wake people up in the middle of the night if severe weather threatens, Hutton said.
The weather service also does a lot of posting on Facebook. Several free weather radar apps are available for phones.
In 2016, there were 975 tornadoes in the United States and that is below the average of over 1,000. Kansas recored 102 tornadoes in 2016 including 8 on Christmas Day, a very rare event in Kansas. There were no EF5 tornadoes, the most destructive type that accounts for only one percent of all tornadoes. There were only two EF 4 tornadoes in 2016. There were 17 tornado fatalities in 2016 and that was below average too.
Pratt County has emergency sirens across Pratt and through out the county. It is the custom to sound the sirens only in the event of dangerous weather situations like tornadoes. The public is cautioned that an all clear is not given, said Tim Branscom, Pratt County Emergency Manager.
If the sirens are sounded a second time, it means there is another weather emergency and people need to take cover, Branscom said.
Pratt County Emergency Management has a notification system available to the public. Go to https://ks-prattcounty.civicready.com/ and enter the contact information in the "Sign Up for Alerts" box. Alerts are sent through e-mail, voice and text.