Two brief bouts of severe weather did more than $37 million in damage in Lawrence this year, making 1991 one of the costliest years weatherwise in city history.
A 10-minute storm featuring golf ball-sized hail on March 26 dented Lawrence to the tune of an estimated $24 million. On June 15, a bolt of lightning produced by an afternoon thunderstorm struck Kansas University's Hoch Auditorium, causing a fire that cost an estimated $13 million in interior and structural damage.
The March hailstorm sneaked into town late on a balmy Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the onslaught of hail, the storm dumped 1.54 inches of rain on the town, while temperatures dropped 20 degrees almost instantly. Only the extreme western parts of town escaped unscathed. Most Lawrence homes and businesses received extensive roof damage. The storm broke windows and caused substantial water damage.
CARS PARKED outside resembled lunar landscapes on wheels. Car dealers all over town quickly held hail-damage sales to move their dented merchandise.
Body shops, glass companies and roofers did a land-office business for most of the year. The sound of hammering on rooftops was common around town through the fall months.
One of the more interesting methods of coping with the storm was turned in by Glenn Sohl, owner of Cornucopia, 1801 Mass. He was inside the windowless restaurant, which was being remodeled, when the hailstorm hit.
"We were inside with two-by-fours playing baseball," he said. "We had a grand old time."
NO SUCH fun was had the afternoon that lightning struck Hoch Auditorium. Firefighters were called to the scene by two KU students at 3:20 p.m. on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The fire burned out of control for more than 3 hours, destroying the inside of the building and its roof.
Sixty to 70 Lawrence firefighters fought the blaze. Firefighters from Lenexa, Overland Park, Eudora and Shawnee pitched in, along with crews from Wakarusa and Eudora townships and Lexington township in Johnson County. All of Lawrence's fire trucks five engines, two ladder trucks and a squad truck were sent to the scene.
Since the fire, KU officials have tried to secure emergency funding and rebuilding funds from the state without success. The university will seek from $15 million to $20 million from the Kansas Legislature during its spring session for engineering and repairs to the building.
THE OTHER 363 days of 1991's weather were generally routine. On the whole, 1991 could be characterized as warm and dry. Rainfall was below average in five months, including the crucial crop growing months of June, July and August. For the year, Lawrence was almost 4 inches behind its normal precipitation.
The most precipitation was the 2.46 inches that fell on June 15 and 16, the same storm that caused the Hoch fire. Lawrence received only seven other rainfalls that exceeded 1 inch during the year. The largest snowfall for the year was 6 inches, which fell Jan. 25.
Temperatures for most months of 1991 were warmer than usual. The warmest readings for the year were 103 degrees on July 22 and Aug. 2. The temperature hit 100 five times in July and twice during August. The coldest reading was minus 1 degree on Jan. 26 and Jan. 30, the only sub-zero readings for the year.
ONLY FOUR new record temperatures were recorded during 1991. The records all were on the low side 22 on Nov. 1, 10 on Nov. 3, 10 on Nov. 4 and 13 on Nov. 7. A handful of record highs and lows were equaled during the year.