For Release May 6, 2003

Use Common Sense During Severe Weather

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

The severe weather outbreak that we saw last weekend should not be a surprise to anyone. We may not have those kinds of storms every year, but the possibility certainly exists every spring and summer in Kansas. When you live in the central/southern Great Plains, thunderstorms and tornadoes are always a possibility. I was in Leavenworth this weekend attending a birdwatching event with my wife. We left Leavenworth mid afternoon on Sunday just as the weather was starting to get interesting.

Letís review thunderstorms. The one thing that separates a thunderstorm from rain producing clouds is lightning. Every thunderstorm produces lightning. Many thunderstorms will also produce hail. Some thunderstorms will produce hail large enough and intense enough to do serious property damage. And a very few thunderstorms will produce tornadoes, with a few of these tornadoes doing some serious damage.

As we were leaving the Leavenworth/Lansing, area a severe thunderstorm warning was issue for Leavenworth county. That means that a thunderstorm with strong lightning, possible high winds, possible damaging hail and possible tornadoes was occurring and moving into the area. What was the one thing that I listed that did not have the word possible in front of it? Thatís right, lightning!

I saw a house where the couple had just pulled both of their cars under a tree to protect them (maybe) from possible hail. There was lightning overhead and thunder was rumbling. The couple were both leaning against the oak tree watching the weather. These people have obviously never seen what happens when lightning strikes a tree. These people had put themselves at serious risk, as were the people who were out on the golf course while lightning was dancing overhead.

People worry and panic over tornadoes, yet far more people are killed by lightning in an average year than by tornadoes. Lightning carries heat as high as 50,000 degrees. Thatís hotter than the surface of the sun by the way. Lightning carries thousands of volts of electricity. Even if you survive a direct, or indirect hit, you can suffer muscle and neurological problems for the rest of your life. If you can hear thunder, you are at risk. Head to cover in a building or vehicle.

It is critical that you be aware of the weather around you especially during severe spring and summer storms. As we progressed towards Junction City from Leavenworth, we watched a wall cloud develop and a tornado touch down in Wyandotte county. We knew the risk was there for tornadoes to develop and we were listening to local radio stations and the National Weather Service radio broadcasts. We were in heavy rain so we took the car off cruise control. We slowed down to avoid hydroplaning. There were cars flying past us that were oblivious to the tornado less than a mile south of the turnpike. They may have had the CD player cranked so loud they wouldnít know severe weather was around until a tornado lifted their car of the road!

Surviving severe Great Plains weather comes down to awareness and common sense. Listen daily to a local weather forecast. That way youíll know if severe weather is a possibility. If you see dark clouds building, start listening to a weather radio or a local radio station to see if watches or warning have been issued. And then have a plan and be prepared to find appropriate shelter from the potential weather risk you are facing. Donít depend on dumb luck to protect you. Try using a little common sense!


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