When it comes to severe weather, tornadoes get the lion’s share of attention in Kansas. Their fury, quick formation and swath of devastation are rightly feared by residents.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that tornadoes aren’t the biggest threat when it comes to severe weather.
In fact, the leading causes of weather fatalities are flooding and then lightning, said Ross Janssen, chief meteorologist for KWCh’s storm Team 12. Tornadoes are the third.
March 2-6 is severe Weather Awareness Week, and Storm Team 12 wants to make sure Kansans are prepared for all types of severe weather.
Janssen knows it can be tough for the message to sink in—he’s still trying to get his own dad to take that first rumble of thunder seriously instead of waiting until the storm is right on top of him. “You start to hear thunder, and it’s time to start looking for an indoor location,” Janssen said.
Golf courses, pools, under trees: These are all places you don’t want to be. Janssen says that if you can hear thunder, then there is risk for lightning. “There’s no way to predict where it’s going to strike,” Janssen said.
Storm Team 12 has a large, experienced staff that is dedicated to serving the public when severe weather strikes. In addition to Janssen, the staff includes legendary 33-year veteran Merril Teller, Mark Larson, Rodney Price and Dean Jones. And then there’s Millie the Weather Dog. Millie is Janssen’s Welsh Corgi and is well known to viewers from her time hanging around the weather center and attending community presentations.
The depth of the team allows KWCH 12 to coordinate with storm chasers and effectively cover its large viewing area, which is composed of 75 out of the 105 counties in Kansas, as well as portions of northern Oklahoma, southwestern Nebraska and Eastern Colorado. The station stays abreast of the latest technology, including new capabilities that allow it to display radar updates on television twice as fast as a year ago—with new data every two to three minutes, instead of four to five minutes.
“The weather can be dramatically different from one side of the state to the other, especially in March,” Janssen said.
Flooding is another top concern for Storm Team 12. “People underestimate the power of water,” Janssen said. Nighttime is particularly dangerous, because it is difficult to recognize how deep the water is. He advises taking care in low-lying areas and being cognizant that just two feet of water can float most vehicles.
When it comes to tornadoes, the KWCH 12 meteorologists say, the “season” is most commonly from April 1 to the middle of June. However, cautioned Teller: “They have happened any month of the year in Kansas.”
2014 was an unusual year for tornadoes in Kansas. In fact, Sedgwick County was never once under a tornado watch, although some surrounding counties were. Additionally, there were only 40 tornadoes reported in the state in all of 2014, Janssen said.
“I think largely why we had so few was related to drought,” he said.
Storm Team 12 can’t yet predict what 2015 will bring with regard to severe weather, but the meteorologists will be monitoring the skies continually. safety and alerting the public are their top priorities.
• Have a weather radio with a warning tone.
• Remember “DUCK”
• Down to the lowest level
• Under something sturdy
• Cover your head
• Stay in shelter until the storm has passed
• Stay away from windows.
• Get out of vehicles and into a sturdy structure or ditch.
• If you are stuck in a vehicle, buckle your seatbelt and get below window level.
• Highway overpasses are more dangerous—a ravine or ditch would be better.
• “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
• If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance. Move indoors or to vehicles immediately.
• When indoors, avoid corded phones, computers, electrical equipment, tubs, showers and other things connected to metal plumbing.
• “Turn around. Don’t drown.”
• Never drive through flooded roadways.
• Don’t attempt to cross flowing streams.
• As little as six inches of fast-moving water can sweep you off your feet.
• As little as 18 inches of water can float a vehicle and carry it away.
• If your vehicle is caught in rising water, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
• Report flooding to local authorities.
Source: National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, weather.gov/wichita