Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2008

Microburst’ makes surprise entry into city’s vernacular

March 30, 2008


Ever since a severe storm hit Lawrence two years ago, the name "microburst" has taken on new meaning to many in the city.

The name itself seemed a foreign one at the time when tornado-like winds blasted the city March 12, 2006, but now it's all too familiar.

For some community members, the microburst meant thousands of dollars spent on repairs. For others, it was a reminder to take weather warnings seriously. And for those who have a hand in issuing those warnings, an enhanced storm-tracking system helps them do a more accurate job.

Trees, power lines and buildings on the Kansas University campus and throughout the city were damaged extensively from the 60- to 80-mph winds.

Included in the storm's path were the eight spires of Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.

Two spires crashed to the ground, and the remainder were damaged. The roof and white caps to the spires also were damaged.

Fourteen months and $93,000 later, the church has made those repairs and replaced and strengthened the spires.

"Our insurance company tested them and paid for them to be strengthened so they wouldn't fall if we had another microburst," said Barbara Holland, business administrator for the church.

No one was injured, but it was a close call.

"Someone was close to coming up the stairs," Holland said. "A minute either way on either side, someone could have gotten hurt.

"The lesson learned is this is an old building, and we need to be sure we're keeping the community safe, so all of those towers were extensively strengthened."

Another lesson is one that could have provided more advance warning to people in Lawrence, especially downtown.

"At the time, our warning software had county lines and urban, but we had a cross-hair with the word 'Lawrence' centered over downtown, and when we put out the warning it didn't include downtown," said Jennifer Stark, warnings coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Topeka.

"The city of Lawrence did not get mentioned in the wording of the warning - it just said northern Douglas County."

A polygon system from new storm-tracking software has allowed meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Topeka and locally to more accurately track storms within a county.

The system outlines counties that could be affected by a severe storm or tornadic storms. Within the outlines, a polygon follows the path of the storm within one county so specific cities can be forewarned.

The microburst, however, was an unpredictable beast. It didn't actually become a microburst until it hit Lawrence, said Bill Gargan, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Topeka.

"We were tracking that storm back in Osage County, and all we were getting was one-quarter to one-half (inch)-sized golf ball hail," Gargan said. "The environment looked more like hail, but the storm got strong enough and the cold air shallower at the surface over Lawrence that the downdraft was able to penetrate through that inversion and made it to the surface."

Once it hit the surface, the wind moved out horizontally, causing the widespread wreckage.

"It can cause a lot of damage to mobile homes and buildings with poorer structure quality," he said.

The polygon system also will help Douglas County Emergency Management concentrate warnings to people in certain areas.

The warnings can be issued, but not everyone takes heed.

"It's important for people to know that severe thunderstorm warnings do need to be taken very seriously," Stark said. "The Lawrence microburst is a really good example that straight-lined winds can do more damage than tornadoes."


aginglady 10 years, 2 months ago

They called it a "gustnado" at the time, remember?

George_Braziller 10 years, 2 months ago

Microburst my a$$. Microbursts don't move southwest to northeast or twist off two foot diameter trees. My tree pruner even said that it was a tornado as he removed the one that punctured my roof and caused $20,000 damage to my house.

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