Storms batter southeast KS

Unusually large hail, high winds, cause damage across wide area of state.

BY JOHN PAPE | WICHITA, KS | September 16, 2010

This Witchita area resident shows off the size of Wednesday afternoon hail compared to hardballs.

A severe storm system moved through southern Kansas Wednesday, producing baseball-sized hail and spawning several tornadoes, but no reported injuries.

Wichita and southeastern Kansas were hardest hit as the storm system tracked through the state before moving into extreme northeast Oklahoma and southern Missouri.

South central Kansas was pelted with hail as large as baseballs, heavy rains that caused some localized flooding and five confirmed tornadoes touching down south of Wichita just after 6:30 p.m.

Sedgwick County surrounding Wichita was placed under a tornado warning for about an hour.

According to the National Weather Service, unusually large hail was reported across much of the area.

“Most of the area saw significant hail, and a few areas experienced very large hailstones. We’ve had no reports of injuries, which is fortunate given the size and amount of hail the Wichita area experienced,” forecaster Vanessa Pearce said.

Parts of Wichita saw golfball-size hail, but hailstones much larger were reported in western parts of the city. One hailstone measured seven inches across and will be evaluated by the National Weather Service as a possible new state record.

The areas west of downtown Wichita also saw trees uprooted by straight-line winds, downed limbs, windows broken, roof damage and even large gouges in the ground from the large hailstones.

At one point, as many as 11,000 residents were without power.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Randall Duncan said his office was evaluating the damage to see if the county qualified for federal assistance. He said the most of the damage was “in widely isolated areas.”

“At the current time, we have no reports of injuries or fatalities in Sedgwick County due to the occurrence of severe weather last night. As far as damages are concerned, at the current time we have sporadic reports of damage in widely isolated areas,” Duncan said.

He also said assistance may be available through a pair of FEMA programs administered by the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. To qualify for help, however, it is necessary for the county to meet certain damage “triggers.”

“For Sedgwick County, the trigger level is $1,462,766.97; the trigger level for the State of Kansas is $3,468,059.22. Both of these trigger levels have to be met in order to qualify for public assistance,” Duncan said. “At this point in time, I have a total of zero reported in damage to publically-owned property, although I do have some knowledge that there was public property damaged (such as) police patrol vehicles but we won’t have any specific data on this issue for some time.”

Additionally, Duncan said to trigger individual assistance at its lowest level, the county must be able to demonstrate 25 or more homes or businesses with 40 percent or more uninsured loss. As of Thursday morning, he said his office had no reported structures that meet the criteria, but it was possible that would change as residents check their property.

“Damage to things like vehicles and trees is usually not covered in our damage assessment because neither of these figures contributes to the ‘trigger levels’ for public assistance or individual assistance,” he said. “When we look at a property covered by the typical homeowners’ insurance policy, we find they usually have around 80 percent coverage. So, if a private person or homeowner has their property covered by insurance, they will usually not count toward the individual assistance trigger level.”

The storm brought an early end to a Wichita Wingnuts baseball game, which had to be called in the seventh inning because of the severe weather.

Wichita resident Brooks Jameson said he and other fans at the game took shelter beneath Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. He said so much hail fell on the ball field that “it looked like a snowstorm.”

“It got to the point where we didn’t even feel safe under the roofed area (of the stadium), the hail was so large. We went underneath to wait it out,” Jameson said.

Jameson also said the storm caught a lot of people by surprise.

“We knew there was a chance of some rain, but the threat wasn’t bad enough to even think they would cancel the game. We never expected this kind of storm this time of year,” he said.

Much of the tornado activity was reported west of the city of Derby, a suburban community located on the extreme south side of Wichita. Emergency management and law enforcement agencies received more than a dozen reports of tornadoes on the ground, with five of the reports confirmed. No serious damage or injuries were reported as a result of the twisters.

Police officer Jeremy Stafford said his squad car was pelted with hail, rain and strong winds.

“It reminded me of the 2009 that hit downtown Wichita, a lot of hail and wind. We had a few reports of broken windows, a lot of trees shredded but, luckily, it didn’t look like any of the tornadoes touched down in populated areas,” Stafford said. “It was very dark toward the west and very intense.”

In nearby Haysville, winds toppled several trees and tore the roof off a transmission company. Additionally, the roof of nearby Campus High School was also damaged, but remained mostly intact. School officials were still assessing the extent of the damage on Thursday.

After hitting the Wichita area, the storm moved southeast into Cowley and Butler counties. Tornadoes were reported in rural areas near Winfield and Dexter, but no damage was reported.

At one point, Cowley County Emergency Management officials urged residents to remain in their homes because of downed power lines and trees. The damage appears to have been the result of straight-line winds and not a tornado.

In Columbus, located in extreme southeast Kansas, the storm took part of a roof off the gymnasium at Central School. Columbus Unified School District 493 Superintendent David Carriger said the interior of the gym was still intact, but sustained water damage.

“We had several inches of water get in the gym as a result of the heavy rains. It poured in for about 15-20 minutes,” Carriger said. “We’re probably going to have to replace the gym floor.”

Before hitting the Wichita area, the storm system dumped as much as six inches of rain in portions of north-central Kansas causing some flash flooding of stream crossings. The waters quickly receded and no evacuations or injuries were reported.

After moving out of Kansas, the storm system crossed extreme northeastern Oklahoma and into southern Missouri bringing ominous clouds, rain and some wind, but without the severe weather and damage seen in the Wichita area.

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