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Twister time is here again

4/2/2014

Tornadoes in Kansas this spring?

Tornadoes in Kansas this spring?

No, but there's snow in the forecast again.

Here it is the first of April, and the white stuff continues to fall from the sky. While many consider this a cruel April Fool's joke, don't become too excited about the wild weather Mother Nature serves up in our state. There's still plenty of time.

Seven short years ago on May 4, 2007, the town of Greensburg in Kiowa County was all but wiped off the face of the earth.

The tornado that hit the small Kansas community of 1,500 killed 11 people and injured dozens more. Ninety percent of the town was destroyed, including 961 homes and businesses. Another 216 received significant damage. Wind speeds of more than 200 mph accompanied the storm.

Other killer tornadoes occurred that day with a death in Pratt County and another in Stafford County. Some of the monster twisters were nearly 2 miles wide. Eleven tornadoes occurred May 4.

The next day, another 36 tornadoes were reported in Kansas, falling just short of the all-time record of 39 tornadoes in one day set in June 1992. Fourteen tornado-related fatalities were reported last year, including 82 injuries, according to the National Weather Service in Topeka. Thirteen of these fatalities occurred during the May 4 to 5 outbreak.

In stark contrast to the tornado onslaught of 2007, Kansas recorded the longest tornado drought in 24 years during 2009. Not until April 22, 2010, did the first tornado touch down in the Sunflower State. Prior to that tornado, the last twister reported in Kansas was on Aug. 2, 2009. That resulted in 262 days without a reported tornado in Kansas.

Fifty-six tornadoes were reported in Kansas last year, while 2013 was the quietest season since 1994 when 42 tornadoes were reported. In 1976, only 14 tornadoes dropped in Kansas -- the fewest on record.

Last year's tornado season lasted 128 days, ranking it as the seventh-shortest season. Forty-one of the 56 twisters (73 percent) occurred during an 11-day period in mid- to late May.

Now that's the kind of quiet tornado season most Kansans like, although few care for tornadoes at all. Let's hope this season remains calm as well.

Still there will be tornadoes. This is Kansas, after all. You know -- Dorothy, Toto and tornadoes. When it comes to tornado safety, the bottom line remains the same: Tune in, stay informed and keep an eye on the sky.

Remember, pay attention when you hear a tornado watch because that means severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible over a wide area. Tornado warnings are issued when Doppler radar indicates tornadoes are forming or a trained weather spotter has sighted a twister. This warning will tell the location, and if possible, movement, estimated speed and the towns in the tornado path.

Seems like every year the National Weather Service provides us with ample warning when tornadoes are likely to occur. There are seven National Weather Service offices that serve portions of Kansas including Goodland, Dodge City, Wichita, Topeka, Hastings, Neb., Pleasant Hill, Mo., and Springfield, Mo.

Each office is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year with meteorologists and technicians.

Think ahead during this upcoming severe weather season. Listen to forecasts daily, check the weather app on your smart phone and key into local weather conditions in your area. Know where your nearest shelter is, and remember when a tornado threatens, immediate action might save you and your loved ones' lives.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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