Back when I wrote “Twistering the Night Away,” I knew there was a risk of severe weather for Sunday, May 19. Officially, the damage locally will be categorized as minor, but the activities of the day should remind people of just how fast a severe weather situation can change.
Sunday, May 12
The start of Mother’s Day indicates a chance of storms all week beginning May 15. The prospect of heavy rain is mentioned, especially for Wednesday, but any severe risk is limited to the upcoming weekend. However, the Storm Prediction Center mentions “some severe potential” for Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19 — with the greatest threat for Sunday. SPC also hints outlook areas (the slight, moderate and high risk areas) could be issued for “multiple consecutive days.
Monday, May 13
Short-term, the forecast still calls for thunderstorms and heavy on Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday are now dry and Wednesday’s rain chances have dropped noticeably. Longer-term, the SPC issues a risk area for Saturday, saying the models agree better for activity Saturday than for Friday or Sunday.
Tuesday, May 14
Wednesday’s rain chances are done. Thursday and Friday look to be dry. However, it now appears the Midwest could well see two days of severe weather. The SPC says Saturday’s event would be pushed north of original projections into Nebraska, and it sets a possible Sunday event across the eastern fifth of Kansas along with parts of Missouri and Iowa. Isolated tornadoes are possible both days.
Wednesday, May 15
Troubling trends for east central Kansas, according to the SPC, which has extended its forecast for Saturday further south — back to where it was Monday — and the Sunday risk is now further west of its original map.
Thursday, May 16:
Well, what do you know. Day 2 (Saturday) is now pushed northwest into central Nebraska and south-central South Dakota. SPC continues to mention isolated tornadoes for Sunday. Now it mentions “very large hail” as a concern.
Friday, May 17
SPC issues a wide slight risk area for Sunday, and while it doesn’t mention a possible upgrade in words it does give a 30-percent risk percentage almost across the slight risk area. It also hatches the area, meaning a greater potential for a significant severe weather event within 25 miles of a given point. A cap, or air layer where temperatures increase with height instead of decrease, will help suppress any updrafts…but only for a while before it breaks. Hail larger than tennis balls is a possibility. And “strong tornadoes” are mentioned as a concern by the SPC, although the National Weather Service says large hail is the main concern at the moment.
So, in other words, Sunday is not looking good. And we have graduations all over the place Sunday afternoon.
Saturday, May 18, 12:54 a.m.
Moderate risk issued for the day west of Interstate 135.
Moderate risk also issued for Sunday affecting the eastern half of Kansas and decent chunks of neighboring states to the north, south and east. SPC still calling for hail the size of tennis balls or larger and now is looking for a cluster of tornadoes in southeast Kansas and central Oklahoma. Possibility of severe weather across the Sunday moderate risk area is now at 45 percent.
National Weather Service Topeka office says storms are possible in east central Kansas by late evening. Severe risk unknown, but the main show is designated as central Kansas.
Little change in SPC’s Sunday outlook other than to say the projected shear and instability will support strong tornadoes.
Storms erupt in central Kansas and push east, prompting tornado watches and supplemental watches for Morris and Chase counties in our area.
Tornado watch issued for Lyon and several surrounding counties. Main reason is low-level shear. Strong storms now enter KVOE listening area in far west Morris and Chase counties; line stretches southwest to Wichita and continues to backbuild as storms push northeast.
Line begins breaking up and thinning out, right before a severe thunderstorm warning is issued for Morris County.
Line of storms is down to showers with embedded thundershowers. Ride home is soupy.
Sunday, May 19, 1 a.m.
SPC Day 2 (Monday) outlook effectively pushes the core risk area for hail and tornadoes southeast of the KVOE listening area. There is a slight risk from Elmdale to Topeka and on southeast, but it’s clear now. For the Flint Hills, the main show is today.
SPC outlook calling for strong tornadoes and hail up to baseballs — if the capping inversion blows up as expected. Main tornado risk basically from US-75 to the east, with wind from Emporia to the east and hail from K-177 eastward. Timing is adjusted about an hour later than first expected.
Our dog, Holly, insists on enhancing our crop of poopgrass, so I let her out. It’s already humid outside. It’s sunny. The wind is howling out of the southeast, stretching the flag of the nearby Baptist church. Mother Nature is greeting us with one hand to shake and the other behind her back with the first two fingers crossed.
Weather Channel severe weather gurus Mike Bettes and Dr. Greg Forbes are shown in Wichita with videos from Saturday night and their Tor.Con indices — 6 or 7 for much of Kansas. Forbes and Bettes are then on TWC in Salina a half-hour later. Amazing, the magic of TV.
I check the latest SPC Day 1 outlook. Looks like storm initiation will be between 1-2 p.m. Just in time for dance recital. Great.
Storm Prediction Center issues Tornado Watch No. 181 for almost the entire eastern half of Kansas until 10 p.m.
Day 1 outlook says cap has eroded across Oklahoma, with storms developing and heading into a warm, moist and unstable atmosphere across eastern Kansas. Long-lived supercells are expected, but strong tornadic activity depends on whether storms can “couple” with the moist boundary layer. Severe storm approaches west edge of Wichita with quarter- and half-dollar-sized hail but looks like it will pass to the west. Scattered showers developing in west Chase and Morris counties.
Rapidly rotating wall cloud noticed near Milton, a small town south of Wichita. Tornado warning issues shortly thereafter for Sedgwick, Sumner and Kingman counties.
Unconfirmed — and brief — tornado touchdown reported near Viola, Kan. Storm begins curling to the right, taking it more towards Wichita proper.
Storms start to get rooted in the atmosphere across extreme eastern Morris and western Wabaunsee counties. More touchdowns reported near Viola and Clearwater. KVOE spotters told to come in for positioning.
Massive tornado reported on the ground near Mid-Continent International. NWS Wichita staffers take cover shortly afterward. Debris ball, where storm debris can be seen on radar up to 5,000 or 10,000 feet or higher, is noted a few minutes later.
Power poles reported downed in Wichita.
Severe storm warning issued for northeast Wabaunsee, followed quickly by a tornado warning for central Butler County.
Debris noted near Wellington, just before trained spotter confirms rain-wrapped funnel and persistent wall cloud near the town.
Tree, outbuilding and power pole damage confirmed in Wichita. Damage doesn’t seem consistent with statements of a wedge on the ground. Torn ado warnings spread to nearby Butler County and re-fire for Sumner, Sedgwick and Harper counties as storm cluster finally starts significant movement to the northeast. KVOE is now well into wall-to-wall severe weather coverage, with Roger Hartsook at Emporia High and Kyle Thompson originally set to go to the I-35/Merchant Street interchange but shifted south to the Municipal Airport. Ryan Schmidt, Scott Hayes, Charlie Allen and Jake Ryan are all in studio fielding phone calls and monitoring for any engineering issues.
Northwest Chase County now in severe thunderstorm warning as storm cluster grows in size to the north. Additional warning issued shortly thereafter for southeast Chase and northwest Greenwood counties. Main cluster now a line and starting to bow noticeably to the east, with lead edge approaching Saffordville.
National Weather Service Topeka office issues severe thunderstorm warning for Lyon County. Initial thought is 70-mph winds and penny-sized hail will be the peak concerns. Bow echo now prominent on KVOE’s WeatherTAP.com radar.
Reports come in of quarter-sized hail near Strong City. Multiple reports of heavy rain in Lyon County. National Weather Service Wichita office starts canceling western counties from tornado watch.
Severe storm warning now impacts northwest Lyon County and eastern Wabaunsee County.
Kyle calls in from the Municipal Airport reporting a funnel touchdown nearby — and, later, he would say near him. During his report, civil defense sirens begin screaming in Emporia. Seconds later, NWS Topeka issues a tornado warning for northwest Lyon County. Touchdown is brief but effective, destroying a barn and partially de-roofing a house. Scramble is on full-bore in studio to field and relay all the listener and Storm Team spotter reports.
Before 6 p.m.
Reports of tornado or tornado-like damage are called in as photos start streaming in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Power lines and a barn are reported hit about three miles northwest of Emporia, while trees are twisted off and a roof is reported damaged in the far southeast corner of town. Storm damage is also reported near Reading, which was sliced open by an EF-3 tornado two years ago almost to the day.
Tornado warning canceled for Lyon County. Cleanup starts almost immediately at Roads 110 and J, where the first damage was reported on air, and also in southeast Emporia, where eyewitnesses would ultimately report a second touchdown. On-air coverage continues as bow echo starts to re-bow and continue shoving off to the east.
Coffey, Osage counties added to severe storm warning list. Severe storms start firing in central Kansas, prompting a new wave of warnings as storms initially look like they could impact KVOE listeners late in the evening.
Wave of listener damage reports appears to be cresting. Southern Greenwood County re-warned.
KVOE signs off. I start news stories for on-air Monday and for KVOE.com. Ryan heads to the 700 block of South Weaver for damage assessment, pictures and interviews.
Kyle returns from stops at the airport and the 1500 block of Road 205, the second immediate report of damage — and lets us know just how close he was to the twister. According to Kyle, the tornado touched down less than a mile away from him and former Municipal Airport manager Don Tevis, lifted and came down almost to ground before dissipating. Not bad for his first time as a KVOE spotter. Dangerous — highly dangerous — but not bad.
Quick coverage plan finalized with hourly updates through 9 p.m. in addition to our normal overnight headlines.
Tornado warnings issued for Chataqua, Cowley and Elk counties.
First update. Choppy but it capsulates what we had.
Ryan calls from southeast Emporia. Considering he didn’t have a recorder — I left mine at home and Roger took Ryan’s — we work a pair of makeshift cell phone interviews for later. Ryan then returns to start processing our Photo Showcase.
Lyon County Emergency Management Coordinator Rick Frevert joins us live, noting scattered damage from the airport to Reading, all but confirming the second touchdown in southeast Emporia and mentioning there is no way Lyon County would qualify for federal or state relief because the damage won’t hit minimum threshholds. As most everybody takes a deep breath here, tornado warnings are sounded for Allen, Woodson and Wilson counties.
Wrap-up stories finished for KVOE.com. Hail the sizes of tennis balls and baseballs falls across southeast Kansas with tornado warnings still in play.
NWS Wichita gives preliminary rating to twister near MCI as EF-1. Despite the fact the damage path was half a mile wide.
Tornado watch canceled.