If you’ve ever heard the stampeding sound of a tornado or been close enough to see fence posts, the side of a building or the steel of a grain bin twisting furiously as the dreaded black monster gobbles up the countryside, you’ll remember it always.
Kansas ranks third in the nation in the number of tornadoes with an average of 61 per year since 1950, according to figures by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Topeka. The most tornadoes occurred in 2008 when more than 180 tornadoes ravaged the Sunflower State. The fewest recorded were 14 in 1976.
Severe weather generally begins sometime after the first week of March in Kansas. Last year the tornado season began Feb. 28. Unfortunately, one of the eight tornadoes occurring that day struck Harveyville resulting in damage, injuries and one death. The last tornado of the year touched down in Shawnee County on Sept. 17.
April 2012 was a record month in terms of tornado count. The 52 tornadoes logged surpassed the old April record of 46 set in 1964.
April 14, 2012, will go down as one of the more prolific days in severe weather history for central and southeastern Kansas. Twenty-four twisters touched down across 26 counties. Of these two dozen tornadoes, one was rated an EF4 (winds up to 199 mph) and two were rated as EF3s (winds up to 167 mph).
One surprising and fortunate statistic from this major storm outbreak was the lack of injuries and fatalities considering the significant structural damage to several homes and businesses. Each of the tornadoes classified as violent or strong were reported up to one mile in width at several points along their particular paths.
Last year, 94 tornadoes tore through Kansas. The longest tornado tracked for 50.3 miles April 14 while moving through Rice, Ellsworth, McPherson and Saline counties.
The most costly twister occurred in Sedgwick County resulting in $500 million in damage including 38 injuries on April 14. Rush County reported the most in one county with 12.
And while no amount of structural damage will ever trump the tragedy of lives lost, the worst tornado, as far as loss of human life, occurred on May 25, 1955 in Udall, Kansas. On that fateful day 80 people died and 270 were injured, according to NWS records.
Andover ranks as the second worst storm on record. Seventeen people died and another 302 were injured April 26, 1991.
When it comes to safety during tornado season, the bottom line remains staying informed of possible severe weather conditions. Remember to listen to or stay up to date on conditions in your area, especially when severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible across a wide area.
Tornado warnings are issued with Doppler radar that indicates tornadoes are forming or a tornado has been sighted by a trained weather spotter. This warning will tell the location, and if possible, movement, estimated speed and towns located in the tornado path.
Think ahead during this severe weather season. Listen to forecasts daily, key into local weather conditions and know where the nearest shelter is. And remember, when a tornado threatens immediate action may save you and your loved ones’ lives. Pay attention to the weather around you. Stay informed.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.