Meteorologist trains storm spotters in Pratt

Gale Rose
Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist National Weather Service in Dodge City, shares information during a severe weather meeting in Pratt on March 5. About 65 attended the meeting that focused on the dangers of severe storms, how to recognize severe storm elements and how to stay safe.

Spring time in Kansas means a return of storms that can be severe. In preparation for stormy weather season, Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist National Weather Service in Dodge City, presented vital information for storm spotters and community members on March 5 in Pratt.

More than 65 people attended the meeting at the Pratt Community Center. This meeting was held prior to the National Weather Service’s cancellation of all other storm spotter meetings across the state due to coronavirus concerns.

According to Hutton, there are five ways to be hurt or killed by severe weather. In the United States in 2019, there were 92 flood fatalities, no hail fatalities but one injury, 21 lightning fatalities, thunderstorm winds killed 45 and caused 207 injuries and there were 41 tornado fatalities.

“Lightning is the most common severe weather event,” Hutton said. “The number of lightning fatalities in Kansas is very low over the last 10 years with only 1 each in 2019, 2012, 2011 and 2009. Injures were also very low with just one or two a year.”

Hutton said the number of strong to violent tornadoes in the United States has been trending downward since 1955. There have been spikes such as the super outbreak in 1974 with close to 140 strong to violent tornadoes were report. Spikes will continue to happen but the trend remains downward. However, Hutton said he believes the trend will go up again in the next two to three years.

In 2019, Kansas recorded 89 tornadoes matching the 30 year average of 89. There were 16 injuries but no fatalities. The strongest was an EF4 on May 28, the first tornado of the season was on April 17 and the last was on Sept. 27, Hutton said.

Severe storms can cause high water and flash floods. The number of flood fatalities has increased nation wide over the five years and Hutton said he thinks its because owners of four wheel drive and high clearance vehicles believe their vehicles will just go through running water but that is simply not true. Some of the fatalities were people driving around barricades. There may not always be barricades but don't risk driving through running water, Hutton said.

U.S. flood fatalities: 2015 (186), 2016 (127), 2017 (182), 2018 (83), 2019 (92 with 61 of those in vehicles).

Hail is always a possibility in severe weather. It can injure people and severely damage property. Kansas has large hail reports across the entire state and the number of reports is almost the same every year, Hutton said.

Thunderstorm winds are just as dangerous as tornadoes. Nation wide in 2019, there were 45 severe weather wind fatalities and 41 tornado fatalities. Storm winds can cause property damage and injury and death from flying debris.

When severe weather threatens, pay attention to weather alerts. A severe weather watch means weather conditions are favorable for severe weather, the alerts are typically valid for five to seven hours, they cover a large area, people need to be aware and monitor sources for warnings.

A severe weather warning means severe weather is occurring or imminent, the warnings are typically valid for 30 to 60 minutes, they cover a relatively small area, people should immediately take action and seek shelter.

Severe weather safety:

Tornado-get to a sturdy, underground shelter, get into a small, interior room without windows, get down and cover your head with your hands. Bathrooms or closets can be a shelter. Get out of vehicles unless there is no place else to go, lay down in the seat to avoid flying objects and pull the seat belt tight.

"Do what you can to protect your self," Hutton said.

Recent tornado activity in Tennessee may have some thinking that tornado alley has shifted. It is not unusual for tornadoes to occur in the southern U.S. but the heart of tornado alley remains in the Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska area of the central plains.

Lighting-avoid tall objects like trees and open areas, avoid open water, avoid hilltops and mountains, vehicles provide safety, get in a vehicle or building. People who get struck by lighting can suffer severe burns and will most likely have ongoing health issues, Hutton said.

Flooding-don't drive through water over a road, turn around-don't drown.

Hail-take cover inside and stay away from windows.

Severe winds-take cover inside and avoid windows.

When severe weather threatens, pay attention to weather broadcasts. A weather radio provides alerts for severe weather. Weather apps are available.

The National Weather Service has several social media sites:

@NWSDodgeCity Tweet reports to #kswx or to #nwsDDC

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