Archive for Sunday, March 24, 1996


March 24, 1996


Tuesday marks the five-year anniversary of a costly hailstorm that is still leaving its mark on Lawrence.

Ten minutes of hail still is affecting Lawrence nearly five years later.

Most people who were here won't likely forget March 26, 1991, when the sky turned green and an onslaught of hail -- some of it golf ball-sized -- pounded the city.

"It was wild," said Jim Murray, a training officer for the Douglas County Ambulance Service who was scheduled to be off that day.

"We have a big pine tree. We only had half a tree left after the storm."

The hail broke windows on homes and cars, damaged hundreds of roofs, pitted the exteriors of thousands of vehicles and ruined entire crops.

In all, it was the costliest disaster in recent memory, generating $22 million in damage and 9,600 insurance claims in Lawrence, according to the Kansas insurance commissioner's office.

Comparatively, the flood of 1993 cost an estimated $1.6 million, according to Paula Phillips, Douglas County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

In the weeks and months that followed, Lawrence residents learned -- sometimes the hard way -- about "storm troopers," roofers who go from place to place and temporary workers in auto repair shops.

In some cases, residents had to order additional repairs after the here-today-gone-tomorrow crews left shoddy workmanship in their wake.

"We still run across jobs left from '91," said Scott Mesler, owner of Mesler Roofing, which did more than 525 roofing jobs after the storm.

Of those, he said, about 10 to 20 required follow-up work.

"I just hope it doesn't happen again," Mesler said. "I made some money that year. But most of the money that was made was by the out-of-towners. By-and-large it wasn't good for anybody."

Caroline Mullen, an Old West Lawrence resident whose roof still leaks after being repaired by a former friend after the storm, said people should be cautious if another hailstorm hits.

"I would shop a little bit more for a roofer," she said.

Mike Pearson, owner of Pearson Collision Repair Inc., said his shop has done work on several hail-damaged cars that were repaired at low standards, then sold to people who later realized the repairs were shoddy.

In the future, he said, "If you can tell (hail damage) was repaired, it wasn't repaired."

He and other business owners said people should be more patient with roofing, auto repair and insurance companies in the event of another storm.

"When you have a catastrophe, which is what this was, it stretched the capacity of the industry and it tests the capacity of any business that is trying to do what it does best."

Although forecasters knew there was a severe weather risk, the 1991 storm hit with little warning. A severe thunderstorm warning for Douglas County was issued only after the hail started falling in downtown Lawrence.

Mike Akulow, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka, said that with the installation of Doppler radar in 1993, forecasters may be able to give people more advanced warning ahead of the next storm.

"There still could have been damage, but there may not have been quite as much," he said. "With a little more warning, you could move your car ... but roofs can't be moved."

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