Thursday night, a big thunderstorm rolled through southern Nebraska and into north central Kansas. The National Weather Service office in Topeka issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area, including Douglas County, predicting heavy rains.
And then, Douglas County received just a few drops.
Was this evidence of a so-called “Tonganoxie split,” an oft-quoted phenomenon of storms splitting up before hitting south of the town, and thus, missing the Lawrence area?
The short answer: No.
Many may claim belief in a split because of low rainfall, but meteorologists say Lawrence receives the same amount of rain as surrounding towns, and that ideas otherwise are based on “short memories” affected by this year’s lower-than-average rainfall.
In fact, NWS meteorologist Shawn Byrne said, Lawrence has gotten more rain so far this month than Topeka has — .31 of an inch compared to .19 of an inch.
Thursday night’s storm lost its power because the sunshine-heated ground caused lower air to warm and instability in the system to be lost, canceling its ability to spill rain.
“That’s just how convection works,” Byrne said.
Though Lawrence has had more rain than other cities and towns in the area, it has been a dry year all around. Last year, the precipitation for Lawrence for all of June was 3.28 inches, higher than the expected average for the month, 2.92 inches.
In 2010, June saw a rather wet 5.4 inches. All this adds up, Byrne says, to an important point in studying meteorology — averages. To determine that Lawrence is somehow buffered from rain would require years of study and consistently low rates to keep down the average, something that’s just not there, he said.
But if you’re a Lawrencian hoping for a downpour, maybe it’s just human nature to want to blame a split.
“If you say it enough times, you believe it,” Byrne said. “But the reality is that (Thursday’s storm) just happened to break up before it hit Lawrence. We sometimes remember what we want and, unless you go back to check the records, memories can be short.”