Meteorologists preparing public for tornadoes

Kansas may have become more famous with the popular ?Wizard of Oz? book and movie, but in reality ?cyclones? are dangerous, deadly and costly weather concerns in Kansas.

Chad Omit, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Topeka, recently reviewed storm structure and important cloud features associated with ?supercell and squall line? thunderstorms.

Cyclones, twisters and tornadoes are different names for the same type of storm, he said.

?They are a violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground, either as a pendant from a cumuliform cloud, or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and often but not always visible as a funnel cloud,? Omitt said.

?A funnel cloud is a condensation cloud, typically funnel-shaped and ex-tending outward from a cumuliform cloud, associated with a rotating column of air.?

Kansas is said to be situated in the heart of ?Torna?do Alley.? The state averages 61 tornados per year with an average of five fatalities. Most of these occur in May and June.

The National Weather Service said 2007 set the record for number of tornadoes in Kansas with 137, surpassing the record of 135 set two years earlier.

On May 5, 2007, Kansas experienced 36 tornadoes. Fourteen people died that year in Kansas tornadoes, and 82 were injured.

From January 1950 to December 2009, Kansas ranked second nationally in average number of tornadoes with 60 per year, and third in tornadoes per 1,000 square miles, at 44.

?It?s important to note that the marked increase in tornadoes reported in recent years has been due in no small part to an extensive, well-trained storm spotter network as well as chase teams who have provided critical real-time reports,? Omitt said.

Some people believe tornadoes won?t happen because of geographical features, such as a large hill or body of water.

?Tornadoes don?t care,? Omitt said. ?They?ll develop and move across lakes, hills valleys and do what they want to do.?

The state?s deadliest tornado occurred at Udall in Cowley County in May 1955. It killed 80 people and injuring 200. Thirteen people were killed when a tornado struck El Dorado in June 1958, with more than 80 injured.

For 11 days in 1966, cities across the state, including Topeka, experienced 59 tornadoes. On June 8, 1966, an F5 tornado ripped through Topeka, killing 17 people, and injuring 500 more.

An F5 tornado hit the city of Andover in Sedgwick County on April 26, 1991, with 19 fatalities.

When a tornado struck Greensburg in May 2007, 11 people were killed, more than 60 were injured and 95 percent of the town was destroyed.

The F-Scale is a measure for rating tornado intensity based primarily on the damage tornadoes inflict on human-built structures and vegetation. It is determined by meteorologists and engineers after a ground and aerial damage survey.

High winds and flying debris associated with a tornado pose a significant threat. One should never near try to outrun a tornado in an urban area, or take shelter under bridges or overpasses.

The general shelter principle is ?go as low as you can and put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible, while also covering yourself with items like heavy blankets or mattresses,? Omitt said. ?It works.?

The worst places to be are outside, in a mobile home or in a vehicle. Omitt said the only time people are advised to flee is if they are in a mobile home.

If in a car, it is advised to put the seat belt on, lower the head below windows, covering the head with hands or a blanket.

?When a tornado watch is issued, be aware, ready to take shelter, alter plans to decrease vulnerability in case severe weather does develop,? Omitt said.

The National Weather Service issues warnings for severe thunderstorms that are producing, or are capable of producing, winds of 58 mph or stronger or hail 1 inch in diameter or larger.

?They should be taken seriously,? Omitt said.

?Living in Kansas isn?t dangerous, but there are a handful of days each year when people need to pay attention to the weather,? he added.

by Frank J. Buchman

Special to The Free Press

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