For Release March 14, 2000
Severe Weather Awareness Week
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
March 13 - 17 is Kansas Severe Weather Awareness Week. Weíve already had tornado and severe thunderstorm watches this year, so it isnít too early to be thinking about severe weather. Ten years ago right now, the residents of Newton were busy picking up after a large tornado roared through their community and continued to the northeast, eventually playing out in southeastern Geary County. While we run a distant third in the race for the most tornadoes in Tornado Alley, we will still see more than our share of severe weather in any given year.
The key to surviving severe weather starts with being aware of severe weather. When you think of severe weather donít just think tornadoes. Keep in mind that lightning, hail, flash floods and straight line winds are also severe weather conditions that can, and do, kill. You have to learn that when those dark clouds start gathering in the west, it might be a good idea to start listening to a local radio station. Topeka isnít a local radio station, Salina is better, but the local stations are the best place to be listening.
Listen long enough to know if we are in a weather watch area. Remember that a watch simply means that severe conditions could develop. If a warning is issued for your county, then it is a much more serious condition and protective actions should begin. A weather radio is an even better method of monitoring the situation. Geary County is currently on the edge of a couple of different weather radio service areas, but by midsummer we should have a new station on line providing excellent coverage to Geary County.
People always think of tornados as being the killer scourge of Kansas weather. This perception is not without justification. In the last 50 years there have been over 2700 tornadoes in Kansas, with 12 being recorded in Geary County. In that same period there have been 208 tornado deaths in the state and over 2500 injuries. While Geary County has not had any tornado related deaths we have had three injuries. Tornadoes, even small ones, can be killers. High speed wind driven debris is the weapon of the tornado. Objects hurled at 100 miles per hour, or faster, can easily injure and kill. Put as much solid material between you and the tornado as possible.
Even more common than tornadoes, and every bit as deadly, is lightning. While tornadoes occasionally occur from a thunderstorm, lightning is always present with a thunderstorm. Any lightning bolt can kill if you take a direct hit. A lightning bolt can reach 50,000 degrees in temperature. This is hotter than the surface of the sun! A single bolt could run a 100 watt light bulb for three months. The human body was not meant to deal, successfully, with either one of those conditions. If you can see lightning or hear thunder, then you are at risk. And while we havenít had anyone killed by tornadoes in Geary County the last 50 years, we have had people killed by lightning and many others who have been injured. Get indoors or get into a vehicle. Donít stay out in the open and stay away from trees. I have a nice collection of pictures showing what happens to trees when they are hit by lightning if you donít believe me.
We will have thunderstorms in Kansas. Some of them will be severe, a few will even have tornadoes. We donít need to be scared to death of every single thunderstorm, but we do need to respect them, because each and every one can be a killer. Take some time to develop plans for your household in case of severe weather, and then spend some time practicing with your family what to do, in case there is that severe storm!
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