Spring into storm season

Weather awareness with KWCH

Written by Amy Palser

Kansas hasn’t seen an EF5 twister since the Greensburg tornado of 2007 that killed 11 people and destroyed 95 percent of the southern Kansas town. But 13 years’ time can lull residents into believing dangerous tornadoes are highly unlikely if not an impossibility, and that’s worrisome for meteorologists like KWCH’s Ross Janssen.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is complacency. We have a tendency to forget what to do in the event of severe weather,” chief meteorologist Janssen said recently from KWCH's Storm Team 12 Weather Center in north Wichita. “Because we’ve had several slow severe weather seasons, with smaller severe weather events, we want people to be prepared for what might be an active season. We don’t know what kind of season we’re going to have just yet, but my expectation is we’ll probably have more severe weather this spring than what we’ve seen the last couple of springs.”

That’s why March is an ideal time to put severe weather at the forefront. A statewide tornado drill on March 3 will give residents a chance to form and practice an emergency plan. And Storm Team 12 will take part in the state’s Severe Weather Awareness Week to remind viewers what to do in a weather emergency. Meanwhile, Janssen and fellow Storm Team 12 weather team meteorologists Mark Larson, Jake Dunne and Sarah Fletcher have been visiting schools across the KWCH coverage area to educate children about what to do in a severe weather event.

“This is a popular time of the year to go out and do school visits. We do anywhere from 50 to 60 school visits through the course of the spring,” Janssen said. “We do a lot of outreach in the schools getting students ready for storm season. We try to educate the young kids what to do if they’re at home when the sirens go off, that it’s OK to be scared, it’s OK to be a little upset, but you gotta be thinking. Try to plan ahead so if that day comes, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

School children generally have a lot of questions about tornadoes and how they work, Janssen said, and it’s a good time to remind them about the difference between a watch, a warning and a tornado emergency. “Most of us, we don’t go through it every year, we don’t go through it every five years. So you should practice and be thinking ahead,” he said.

In 2019, Kansas had several smaller tornadoes, including an EF4 north of Lawrence, with the heaviest damage in the town of Linwood where a handful of minor injuries were reported. “We’ve had several slow severe weather seasons, but we want people to be prepared for what might be an active season. The patterns are cyclical. Everything in weather goes in cycles. Tornado Alley has not shifted. We still happen to be right there in the middle of Tornado Alley. Maybe it’s our turn to have a more active weather season.”

To stay abreast of spring storms, watch KWCH Channel 12, visit kwch.com, or get phone alerts by downloading the Storm Team 12 weather app.

So What’s the Difference?

Tornado Watch: Issued for a broad area (multiple counties or states) where conditions exist for tornadic activity. Often issued a few hours before a storm could hit, it alerts the public of a developing threat and the need to be vigilant.

Tornado Warning: Issued for highly localized areas where a tornado is imminent or has been detected. Often issued minutes before a tornado hits, it urges the public to seek shelter immediately.

Tornado Emergency: Issued for an urgent weather situation with a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage due to a confirmed violent tornado. Danger is imminent and the public should take immediate refuge in the safest place possible.

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