Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

High winds pummel city

Morning storm hits without warning

March 13, 2006


A brutal storm rattled much of the Lawrence area Sunday morning, damaging homes, businesses and schools all over the city.

Straight-line winds with speeds of 70 miles per hour or more shook houses and knocked down trees and utility poles throughout the city. Transformers exploded and caught on fire as falling tree limbs ripped power lines from their posts, some hitting homes or crushing cars.

"I've never been through a storm that bad before," longtime resident Karen Hawk said as she assessed damage to her house near South Park. "It changed my whole year."

The widespread damage prompted Douglas County leaders to declare a state of emergency, sending a resolution to the Kansas Emergency Management department asking for assistance with the cleanup.

As of 9:30 p.m. Sunday, more than 5,000 residents were still without power - down from a high of 43,000 in northeast Kansas earlier in the day, according to Westar Energy spokeswoman Karla Olsen.

Olsen said 32 line crews, both Westar crews from throughout the company's service area as well as contract crews, were working around the clock to restore service. Power is expected to be restored to all customers by this evening, she said.

Kansas University canceled classes today so crews could clear the wreckage.

The cleanup will become the priority for many today, as the city tries to recover after the worst storm in years.

The storm

Douglas County Emergency Management officials had been tracking the storm for about a half-hour when a sudden burst of straight winds tore through the city.

Storm spotters around the county had been relaying information to the county's Emergency Operations Center, telling them about rain and hail. But county officials said nothing seemed very unusual, until the wind hit.

"It was a real unique storm," Assistant Emergency Management Director Teri Smith said.

National Weather Service meteorologists told the county that regardless of several accounts of spiraling clouds touching down around town, there was no official tornado during the storm. But winds reached dangerous speeds as the storm traveled from 31st and Iowa streets northeast toward downtown.

Classes, events canceled

Kansas University will be closed today for storm cleanup. Central Junior High and New York School will be closed, but all other Lawrence public schools will be open.

Several events around Lawrence were canceled Sunday and today because of the storm: ¢ Community Children's Center Head Start, 925 Vt., is canceled today due to facilities damage. ¢ In the Lawrence public school district, there will be no classes today at New York School or Central Junior High School because of power outages. ¢ There is no KU on Wheels bus service today because classes are canceled. ¢ The Yoga Center of Lawrence canceled Sunday's afternoon class above Milton's, 920 Mass. ¢ Lawrence Community Theater's Sunday afternoon performance was canceled. ¢ St. John the Evangelist Church religious education classes were canceled Sunday.

Police and fire crews began responding to storm damage calls around 8 a.m., just moments after the winds began uprooting trees and crumbling walls.

All day, emergency crews were pelted with calls of downed power lines sparking grass fires and traffic lights either not working or no longer there.

Sgt. Susan Hadl said the Lawrence Police Department called in the night shift early and split up the duties, with the early crew handling storm-related calls and the night crew on regular duty.

"That helped, definitely," Hadl said. "That way we could manage everything."

Damage estimates should be in today after city crews survey the wreckage around the city, and state Highway Patrol and Emergency Management officials said they have been monitoring the situation. But Sunday, the city's attention was elsewhere.

"Our focus is not on the dollar amount," Interim City Manager Dave Corliss said. "Our focus is helping to ensure residents are safe."

The aftermath

Near downtown Sunday morning, the reality of the storm sank in for residents and business owners. From all indications, the storm's winds hit hardest here, where whole trees lay strewn across streets and debris from torn buildings blocked sidewalks.

The wind's pressure shattered the wide, darkened windows of the Replay Lounge, 946 Mass. Owner Nick Carrol paced the glass-laden sidewalk outside, talking on the phone to his insurance agent.

"We lost all the metal that holds the glass in," he said. "There's nothing there."

Inside, a half-dozen of the bar's employees gathered memorabilia and equipment that had scattered through the building. A few smoked cigarettes in the now-outdoor area.

Wind velocity downtown was so strong that the concrete planters in the 700 block of Massachusetts were stripped bare of their mulch. A tree just south of Palace Cards and Gifts, Eighth and Massachusetts streets, was snapped off two feet above the ground.

Soon after the storm hit, the city's Neighborhood Resources department sent five inspectors around the city, assessing damage and watching for heavily damaged buildings, department manager Barry Walthall said.

View an interactive map of the damage left behind by the storm <a href="">here</a>.

View an interactive map of the damage left behind by the storm <a href="">here</a>;.

In the 900 block of Rhode Island Street, Walthall and fire crews checked on two houses that a tree had smashed.

David Conkin was asleep in one of the houses when the tree landed on the roof. In pajama pants and bedroom slippers, he tried to describe his first thoughts when the winds went crazy.

"Oh my God, we're going to die," he said, smoking a cigarette.

Chad Harper didn't believe his wife at first when she called him at work Sunday morning and told him a tree had fallen through the roof of their East Lawrence house.

"I thought maybe it was two or three branches that struck the roof," he said Sunday morning.

Raven Harper had planned on sleeping in but the sound of the approaching storm woke her up. She got up and went into the bathroom just as the wind picked up and the tree came crashing through the ceiling into her living room at 1339 N.Y.

"If I had been in bed I would have been covered by debris," she said.

Next door, Mary Jones had been in bed reading when the storm approached. She got up and looked out the window.

Help is available

Relief efforts got under way quickly in Lawrence on Sunday: ¢ The Red Cross opened a shelter at the First Baptist Church at 14th Street and Kasold Drive at 1 p.m. Sunday. The shelter was opened to residents who had no power at their homes, and will also supply food and fresh water. For more information, call the Douglas County Emergency Operations Center at 838-2459. ¢ The Roger Hill Volunteer Center in Lawrence is matching volunteers with agencies in need of help during the storm cleanup. To volunteer, call the center at 865-5030 or e-mail Margaret Perkins-McGuinness of the center said the agency will return the call or e-mail when they need the help.

"There was about 30 seconds of wind" Jones said. "I watched this tree go vertical."

Jones was starting for the basement when she heard the tree fall.

"It sounded like a champagne cork popping," she said. "This was just a really freaky storm."

Tree limbs as well as entire trees littered yards and streets. Some streets were blocked.

Many residents in East Lawrence considered themselves lucky, including Sara McManus. The roof over her head was blown off as she slept on the second floor of an apartment house at 946 R.I. The ceiling, however, remained intact.

"The noise woke me up," McManus said. She went downstairs and stepped outside.

"One of the neighbors came over to check on us. That's when I found out the roof had blown off. I'm just thankful to be OK."

In the 900 block of New Jersey Street, Louis Mendoza had been up listening to a police scanner when he heard something about a possible tornado sighting. He looked out the window and saw a wall of dust and debris coming toward him from just behind New York School.

March 12, 2006, Storm

Related content for the storm

  • A year later, microburst's sudden fury still evident (03-11-07)
  • EMS chief stays positive after injuries (03-11-07)
  • "We didn't have no chance to get to the basement," Mendoza said. His house sustained damage to the roof and sides and some windows were blown out. A van parked in the driveway had its windows shattered.

    The tree debris blocked the street, and neighbors gathered to try to clear it away. Someone drove up with a small front end loader and helped clear the street, Mendoza said.

    "There were quite a few of us out working," Mendoza said.

    Neighbors helped neighbors elsewhere as well. The Harpers had plenty of help removing items from their house and Jones allowed them to store them at her place.

    "I've got some room," Jones said.

    Winds also wreaked havoc with vehicles on the Kansas Turnpike. Near the East Lawrence exit, a truck driver from Abilene suffered minor injuries while driving west about 8:14 a.m. A strong gust of wind blew the semitrailer onto its left side. The driver, Alphonse J. Pawlowski, 49, refused treatment at the scene, according to an accident report.

    Although the eastern side of Lawrence was hit hardest, the southwest part of the city also sustained damage.

    High winds peeled the metal roof off the northeast section of the Mt. Oread medical office building within Lawrence Memorial Hospital's south campus at Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive.

    "We're just trying to keep people away," said Barb King, director of outpatient services, "because if the winds pick up again, it'll blow. Plus, there are nails all over the place."

    King said office workers would call patients early today if their appointments had to be canceled.

    "We'll see," she said. "If the electricity comes on, we'll be OK. We've got the generators running now."

    Laurence Draper, who lives a few blocks north and east of Inverness Drive and Clinton Parkway, saw power lines snapping.

    "I was looking east, out my second floor window," he said. "The lines were swinging back and forth and then, all of a sudden, there was this big blue ball of flame."

    The flame is suspected of starting a grass fire south of Clinton Parkway.

    University damage

    Sixty percent of campus buildings were damaged, the university said in a news release, prompting officials to cancel classes today.

    The damage included plenty of windows and broken glass, but it didn't end there. Winds demolished the door to Snow Hall. Roofing tiles were strewn about campus, leaving clean-up crews trying to determine which buildings they came from.

    "We still have teams there trying to assess the damage," Vice Provost Jim Long said Sunday evening.

    Several buildings were hit hard by the storm, including Murphy and Malott halls. But Long said that Templin Hall sustained the most damage, including windows, roof tiles and equipment that had been caught in the storm.

    "It's one we'll give particular attention to," he said.

    Plus, many trees on campus had been splintered or uprooted. Officials wanted the streets and sidewalks clear of traffic today so crews could clear away the loose branches and debris.

    Anschutz Library and the chancellor's residence also were damaged, and the roof of the nondenominational Danforth Chapel, which has been the scene of thousands of weddings on campus, was nearly completely torn off.

    KU radio station KJHK was knocked off the air Sunday when flying debris hit the station's tower and damaged the transmission lines. Andrew Dierks, the station's general manager and program adviser, said an attempt would be made Sunday night to broadcast at reduced power. If that failed, Dierks said he did not know when the station could be back on the air; it might be several days.

    KU spokeswomen Lynn Bretz said that classes would resume on Tuesday, although some of the work would take time to complete.

    "It's challenging," she said.

    Haskell Indian Nations University's campus was spared major damage.

    "We had some large pine trees uprooted between the Arch (at the west end of Haskell Stadium) and the cultural center," said Haskell President Karen Swisher. "Other than that, we fared pretty well."

    City response

    After the storms hit, Mayor Boog Highberger and Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Amyx were in the operations center, trying to coordinate the cleanup and damage assessments.

    The cleanup process will begin this morning, when city crews will pick up wood and other debris from curbs throughout the day.

    The city can't assist with getting trees and branches from yards to curbs, but instead asked that people who need help moving heavy trash ask neighbors or friends for assistance.

    Still, Highberger said that there will be plenty of work to be done to get the city back to normal. He said he was confident that the city and county were prepared to do it.

    "I've worked with the people here," Highberger said. "They are well-trained. They know their jobs."

    And for the most part, residents and business owners seemed upbeat. Besides a few people with minor injuries who walked into local hospitals, no one was hurt.

    "It was a pretty potent storm," resident Daryl Richardson said, "but I think we'll be OK."


    Bruce Rist 12 years, 2 months ago

    a tornado in 47 degree weather... That's amazing

    yourworstnightmare 12 years, 2 months ago

    There does seem to be a path of damage, from the geological survey, to the soccer fields, to KU, to Central Junior High, to Pendleton's farm.

    South of 19th and north of 11th had minor damage; most severe damage occured between 11th and 19th.

    I'm betting on a small tornado.

    geekin_topekan 12 years, 2 months ago

    Hey!Why is this so slow today? Anyway,thankyou LJWorld for NOT posting any photos of idiots with guns and beers, posing in their mom's yard.

    tpatric 12 years, 2 months ago

    Sorry for the double post, I'm having problems with pages not loading.

    Godot 12 years, 2 months ago

    We should re-think new urbanism. Rather than building up, we should build down. Rather than high rises, we should have "down unders." Live underground, and let the green space grow over us. Use fiberoptics lines from the surface to our "downunders" to provide natural light. Hang thin flat screen monitors on the wall that project the view of your choice so you forget your house is underground.

    Save on heating and cooling, roofing, siding, painting, and protect ourselves from bad weather, maybe even bad people....and save the earth.

    tpatric 12 years, 2 months ago

    I mentioned this yesterday, but I think it is worth asking again. Why aren't the power lines being buried in this city? Everytime a squirrel breaks wind I lose power. Many other communities are doing it; not only does it protect lines in severe weather, but it also helps beautify the community. It might be a big intiitial cash outlay, but I would think in the long run it would be more cost effective.

    Crispian Paul 12 years, 2 months ago

    I agree Jannie. My roommate was looking outside, saw the clouds drop and begin to spin and then there was the "classic" freight train sound. We both grew up in Tornado Alley (Wichita) and have been through plenty of tornadoes and I agree that this was a tornado regardless of what they said.

    tpatric 12 years, 2 months ago

    I mentioned this yesterday, but I think it is worth asking again. Why aren't the power lines being buried in this city? Everytime a squirrel breaks wind I lose power. Many other communities are doing it; not only does it protect lines in severe weather, but it also helps beautify the community. It might be a big initial cash outlay, but I would think in the long run it would be more cost effective.

    lunacydetector 12 years, 2 months ago

    i hope the emergency preparedness lady's $5,000 plasma t.v. came in handy at 8 AM sunday morning, especially since the taxpayers paid for it.

    does 105.9 KLZR give out weather information anymore? it seemed the top 40 hits were more important - at least it was everytime i tuned it in.

    just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

    The sirens are triggered by warnings from the weather service. If they don't see it on radar, or hear from spotters that tornados have been sighted, then the alarms aren't triggered. I've heard that the triggering mechanism was damaged in the storm but I haven't heard anything about the sirens have any problems before that. I was listening to the radio before the storm hit, and there were no tornado warnings or even watches.

    And what difference does it make if it was a tornado or not? Whether it was straight winds or several small tornados won't increase or decrease the amount of damage done.

    Michael Stanclift 12 years, 2 months ago

    1320 KLWN had nothing by storm coverage (except for the short period where they lost power) from around 8AM till noon when the KU pregame started. Hank Booth had said on the air that 105.9 was doing storm coverage as well, but I didn't check.

    Without Hank and Kim at 1320 my family would have been clueless as to what happened and what was going on, they did a very good job!

    mikwitie 12 years, 2 months ago

    I don't know why the "officials" keep saying there wasn't any tornadoes. My family saw a twister about 300 yards from our house. It was in a field and didn't tear anything up. It wasn't very big but it was a tornado none the less. You speak of the general public as if they are too stupid to realize what their looking at. Just because your fancy equipment shows no data to support a twister then you rule out eye witness accounts. I myself am offended by your "educated" arrogance.

    wxguy 12 years, 2 months ago

    yes radar images can be found at Input a time of 16 UTC (10:00) on March 12 and set the loop to 4 hours. It will show a 4 hour loop with the storm easily visible as the eastern-most storm. It is over Lawrence at 14:12:58 image (8:13) and a nice hook is visible.

    mrtwistr 12 years, 2 months ago

    Ok... anyone that reads the first 20 or so postings on this can clearly see that they don't know what they are talking about. Then you read wxguy posting. He pretty much nailed it on the head. He getting his degree in this and I've finished the degree and strongly agree with him. The strongest portion of the storm was obviously well in the northern portion of Lawrence, this is where the strongest updraft and largest hail would likely be seen. Severe storms are every interesting to study, and although meteorology isn't an exact science, I believe that 99.9% of meteorologist would agree that this wasn't a tornado. It was 1 of 2 things... either strong micro-bursts or as wxguy said it was part of the RFD. With the position of the storm I would go with the RFD (Rear Flank Downdraft). Most of the damage was on the backside of the storm which is where the RFD would be located.

    As far as all the tornadoes that were seen as the storm was passing.... I've lived in Kansas my whole life. I've chased MANY storms and tornadoes... and I know for experience, living in a small town with people that don't know what they are looking for... As soon as the sirens blow or a tornado warning is issued... to the untrained eye, anything and everything looks like a tornado when they look at the clouds. Before the siren/warnings they would look at the same cloud feature and think nothing of it. I've heard reports of tornadoes when there are partly cloudy skies over the area reported. Bottom line is this... Go to the Storm spotters training meetings. Topeka's National Weather Service puts them on every year, to educate people about severe storms and what to report and what not to report. They do an excellent job. Good advice to those who think they saw a tornado. I'm not trying to offend anyone; I'm just saying that with my education and my background I strongly believe this wasn't a tornado. With the wide spread damage and the location of the storm, with respect to the damage, I believe, along with wxguy, that it is clear from a meteorological prospective, that it wasn't a tornado.

    wxguy 12 years, 2 months ago

    true, microburst are usually short-lived (anywhere from 5-10 minutes, maybe even less). this storm truly was almost a freak event though. the atmosphere was in a very condusive state for cold environment microburst, and this storm's rear flank downdraft (RFD), imo, enhanced the effects of any microburst. i don't doubt many people saw "tornadoes". the storm probably produced several eddy currents on the leading edge of the strong winds causing gustnadoes. lol...mrtwstr--funny name

    mrtwistr 12 years, 2 months ago

    If you knew that a storm was going to doing as extensive of damage as this storm did... what would be the best way to warn the public of this possible destruction? There was a SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING for this storm.... not a tornado warning at the time of the event. Douglas Co. was never in a tornado warning. But because of winds being 80+ mph and wide spread damage... I would say that the NWS called up Lawrence Officials and said sound the sirens because of the severity of the storm not because of Tornadoes. You saw the damage... people could of been severely injured. I interned at the National Weather Service... and their motto is... "Working together to save live." I feel like they sounded the sirens not because of a tornado threat but because of a life-threating event. Agree to disagree!!!

    Wilbur_Nether 12 years, 2 months ago

    Check out the NWS comments again. In the story "City's recovery moving quickly," P. Frantz at NWS said "the ruling [that the damage was from a microburst and not a tornado] could be changed if the agency receives photographic evidence."

    There is no cover-up, no denial, no funny business. If provided with evidence, the NWS will classify it as a tornado. Their current classification is based on the evidence available to them.

    Wilbur_Nether 12 years, 2 months ago

    kitten, you seem to infer a spurious association, namely that since your insurance is denying you reimbursement that somehow there has been some sort of deal made to allow them justification to do so. The NWS isn't in cahoots with your insurance company to mis-label the storm so your claims can be denied. Refer the pics you are writing of to the NWS and they'll look at them. If the pics truly are of a tornado, the NWS will adjust their classification accordingly.

    wxguy 12 years, 2 months ago

    This storm was elevated in nature (not surface based), which is bad news bears for tornado formation. Look at the topeka sounding at 12z (6:00 a.m.) and you'll see there is an inversion up to a saturated 850, with an extremely dry, nearly adiabatic residual layer from 850 to 600 mb. This sounding could basically be used as a model sounding for cold weather microburst events. Add to this high wind shear and upper level wind support over 100 kts, and yes a microburst wind event is very possible. Hail? Well the hail came with the high level of vertical shear and instability aloft. Radar images suggest a tornadic supercell--with a classic hook and impressive deep convection core just northwest of the hook. However, further review based on surface obs and soundings suggest an elevated supercell with an elevated mesocyclone. The storm most likely became undercut by the cooler sfc conditions as it moved north (storm began down by wichita). This may have had an enhacing effect for supercelluar structure because of the resulting high helicities due to the cold sfc pool. The statically stable sfc to lfc would destroy possibilities of tornadoes, but a microburst environment would still exist. If the normal characteristics of supercells existed in this storm, then an accompaning rear flank downdraft with the elevated mesocyclone could have enhanced wind speeds at the surface even more. Looking at the 8:13 a.m. radar image, lawrence is in favorable spot to be affected by any rear flank downdraft this storm might have produced. Storms were also moving very fast yesterday--this storm motion translates to the wind felt at the surface. Although a weak F0 cannot be completely ruled out, the extreme unlikelyhood of a tornado in the given boundry layer environment and the linearity of the damage (trees blown over in same direction [not twisted]) suggest what people saw were gustnadoes formed on the leading edge of the strongest winds, and yes, gustnadoes can look like tornadoes. They have visible rotating winds, but are not connected to the storm's updraft in the way a tornado is and are not as strong. That's my take on it, but what do I know, i'm only majoring in this stuff.

    kitten 12 years, 2 months ago

    Okay. I am not a meterologist. I have not studied meterology.

    So the black funnel that was on the ground for at least two minutes and was connected to the large (wall?) clouds above it that traveled north from 31st street and crossed 23rd Sunday morning at 8ish, that was initally reported to have winds over 100mph, that I saw out my back door, that the journal world has pictures of on this website, that channel 6 showed video of taken by a 10 year old...was NOT a tornado. It was straight line winds...I mean a microburst...I mean a gustnado.

    Funny how my insurance doesn't cover straight line winds, microbursts or gustnados.

    Gee. Imagine that.

    kitten 12 years, 2 months ago

    the inference was spurious, but i do not actually believe the NWS is cahooting w/insurance agencies. at least i pray to god not.

    i want to believe.

    unfortunately, the photos are not of a tornado, they're of straight line winds. the NWS said so. the photos prove nothing.

    the truth is out there.

    KsTwister 11 years ago

    Still I would take a picture if at all possible, we got one of the Baldwin twister that everyone denied here at first but a couple of days and more pictures.......well, what do you know it is a tornado! But one thing I do know----I don't trust National weather radio for accuracy anymore. The third time was the last. I do not care what is more damaging; a microburst or a tornado but if it kills a person does it matter. I think it will if sirens don't warn you its coming,just make sure the line in your insurance includes acts of God (not that God caused it) so you can cover the damage no matter how it occured.

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