Some good news and some not-so-good news followed the dangerous storms that swept across Kansas Saturday night.
The good news is that, despite strong thunderstorms and numerous tornadoes touching down in Kansas, the state reported no weather-related deaths. The National Weather Service said it had 122 preliminary tornado reports last weekend, the majority of which were in Kansas. Accounting for multiple reports of the same tornado, weather officials say a least 12 tornadoes touched down in the state. One of those tornadoes cut a large swath through Wichita, destroying a mobile home park, one of the most dangerous places to be during a tornado. And yet, because of ample advanced warning and the good decisions of residents to heed that warning, no one was killed.
Improved forecasting technology gets some of the credit for this success. Forecasters had predicted the severe weather for days, allowing time for unusual precautions. The Wichita tornado caused damage at McConnell Air Force Base, but advanced warnings had allowed 16 KC-135 Stratotankers to be relocated out of harm’s way to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Credit also goes to news outlets, including television and radio stations that canceled regular programming Saturday night to provide constant updates on the storm’s progress. The advanced warnings and the wall-to-wall media coverage got the attention of Kansas residents, who apparently took the proper precautions.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officials in central Kansas sounded one sour note after the storm. According to the Salina Journal, emergency officials in Dickinson County were dismayed by the activities of storm chasers who caused traffic jams and hindered emergency crews. Some of the gawkers were local residents or news agencies, but many reportedly were professional storm chasers.
“It was outrageously stupid. … I’ve never seen anything like it in my 27 years of working in emergency services,” said Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman.
Dramatic stories and footage broadcast on The Weather Channel have created a lot of interest in storm chasing, an activity that people like Lanny Dean now have turned into a money-making venture. Dean who operates a Tulsa-based business called extremechasetours.com was in Kansas on Saturday and defended the chasers, saying they provided important education and information on storms. In exchange, the storms provide a nice income for Dean, whose business charges people $3,200 to $3,500 apiece to participate in multiday storm-chasing tours through the spring and summer.
People need to understand that dangerous storms are not a spectator sport. Chasing storms is a hazardous activity, not only for those doing the chasing but for other people in need of emergency assistance or trying to get away from a storm.
Kansas residents did a good job this time of heeding warnings and taking cover. It is hoped that the circus atmosphere reported in some areas of the state last weekend won’t become the norm and make it harder to impress people with the danger of approaching storms and the need to take proper precautions.