By MIKE CORN
GOODLAND -- The snow's all but melted, thanks to recent rising temperatures, and winter-weary residents are ready for spring to be in the air.
While there's still a chance for rain and snow sometime tonight, it won't be long before the crash of thunder will follow lightning bolts.
That's why the four forecast offices in the National Weather Service network covering northwest Kansas have scheduled a series of storm-spotter classes across the area.
The first session in northwest Kansas will be March 3 in Osborne. The series of meetings will continue through early May, and include 3.5-hour advanced storm-spotter presentations in Osborne and Smith Center.
"It's been somewhat quiet the last couple of years," said Dave Floyd, the warning coordination meteorologist at the Goodland National Weather Service.
In 2012, he said, a big high-pressure ridge settled in over Kansas, all but blocking an outbreak of precipitation and severe weather.
In 2013, Floyd said, it was a virtual repeat of a lack of moisture.
"We were way down for precipitation through September," he said, adding moisture levels were on par with 2012.
Without storms to bring moisture, there are fewer chances of tornadoes.
Officially, there were 56 tornadoes in Kansas last year, below average by almost any measure.
"In terms of tornado count, 2013 was the quietest season since 1994," NWS reported, when 42 tornadoes were reported. "In 1976, only 14 tornadoes were reported, the fewest on record."
Despite the quiet side of the storms, at least one person was injured in 2013. That injury was a result of an EF3 tornado that tracked from near Lebanon in Smith County into Jewell County.
That tornado, on the ground for 6 miles, caused $1.8 million in property damage and $3.5 million in crop damage. The rain-wrapped tornado had winds estimated at 140 mph and was as much as 1,600 yards wide, damaging four homesteads along the way.
With four tornadoes reported, Ellis County was joined by Kearny and Sumner counties in terms of counties with the most tornadoes. Smith County had three, while Sherman and Russell counties each had two. Phillips, Logan, Gove, Trego, Ness and Rush counties each had one tornado.
But there were only 15 tornado days, those with one or more tornadoes.
The most active day was May 19, when 12 were reported. May 2013 had 45 tornadoes.
The first tornado was reported April 7 in Russell County. It was a relatively small tornado, rated an EF0, on the ground less than half a mile and only 50 yards wide.
But there was one EF4 tornado, on May 18 in Pawnee County.
With two quiet years in the record books, it's unclear how much longer that trend can last.
But, Floyd said, there was a long string of drought years in the 1930s when storms and tornadoes weren't so common.
The drought conditions of late, however, have improved.
"We had a lot of improvement in the drought situation last year," he said.
But conditions are starting to slip, and much of western Kansas is back in a severe drought, according to the latest Drought Monitor report. Only the northwest corner of the state and a small section in southwest Kansas are in an extreme drought.
So, it's a question Floyd often faces at storm-spotter meetings: What the weather of past months will mean for severe weather in the coming months?
He ultimately tells the questioner he just isn't sure.
* * *
The upcoming schedule of spotter meetings:
* March 3 -- Osborne Public Library.
* March 3 -- Plainville Nazarene Church.
* March 4 -- Hill City Frontier Stage.
* March 5 -- Phillipsburg Fire Station/EMS Building.
* March 5 -- Goodland Northwest Technical College Murray Center.
* March 6 -- Smith Center Srader Center.
* March 6 -- Grainfield 4-H Building.
* March 6 -- WaKeeney, 4-H building at the Trego County Fairgrounds.
* March 10 -- Hoxie Bowen Scout House.
* March 11 -- Norton Prairie Land Electric Co-op downstairs meeting room.
* March 12 -- St. Francis High School cafeteria.
* March 14 -- Sharon Springs CAB building in the fairgrounds at the south end of town.
* March 19 -- Oberlin Gateway Building.
* March 20 -- Oakley, Logan County Courthouse downstairs meeting room.
* March 24 -- Atwood Prairie Developmental Center.
* March 24 -- La Crosse fire station.
* March 25 -- Russell Dream Theater.
* March 28 -- Colby Community Building downstairs meeting room.
* April 2 -- Hays, Sternberg Museum of Natural History.
* April 7 -- Ness City, Ness County Courthouse.
All meetings will be at 6:30 p.m., except those in WaKeeney, Hays, La Crosse and Ness City, which will be at 7 p.m.; the Goodland meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time.
Advanced storm-spotter presentations are planned in both Osborne and Smith Center. Both meetings begin at 8:30 a.m. The Osborne meeting will be March 29 in the basement meeting room of Sunflower State Bank in Osborne.
The Smith Center meeting will be May 3, but a location hasn't been announced yet.
Each meeting is scheduled to last approximately 3.5 hours.