The first day of spring, March 20, is the beginning of storm season.
Larry Ruthi, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Dodge City, said the equinox makes sense as the first day of storm season.
“That’s a time when temperatures are heating up and there’s an increase in moisture ... there’s warm air coming from the south and cold air from the north,” he said. “It makes for instability and wind shearing for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.”
The first tornado last year was on April 17 and the last one was on Sept. 27. The strongest one approached the Kansas City area on May 28.
Southwest Kansas had 29 tornadoes last year, and the average is 28, Ruthi said. Statewide, on average, there are 95 tornadoes. In 2019, there were 87.
Climatologically, the bulk of severe weather occurs from early May to mid-June, but tornadoes have happened as early as February and as late as December, Ruthi said.
So far the forecast favors abundant severe weather this year, Ruthi said.
“There has been unusually strong wind all around the Northern Hemisphere through winter,” he said. “Once we get low-level moisture back, with the wind shear and ... hot air uplift ... the weather’s more favorable to form supercell thunderstorms and we’ll probably be more active with severe weather.”
In 2019, the weather monitoring station at Garden City airport recorded 13 inches of rain, 8.5 inches below the average of 18.95 inches, Ruthi said.
Because of this, a moderate drought has been declared in the area.
Ruthi believes spring will bring enough moisture to abate the drought but said there isn’t a strong indication that there will be a tremendous amount of moisture.
Until moisture comes and things green up, Ruthi said, people need to be aware of wildfires.
“There’s a lot of fuel out there this time of year ... and (wildfires) can happen and spread easily with strong winds this time of year,” he said. “It’s important for people to pay attention to the environment around them.”
Stephen Green, Finney County Emergency Management director, said it’s also important for people to pay attention to the weather forecast as storm season begins.
“The weather can change suddenly in this part of the country,” he said.
Ruthi agreed. He said people should pay attention to all forms of severe weather, not just tornadoes and thunderstorms.
“There’s multiple ways to be killed by severe weather,” he said. “More people die in floods or flash floods than any other meteorological phenomenon.”
Green said people should have a plan in place for what to do and where to go in the event of severe weather.
“You need to do your due diligence and at least have a plan in place,” he said. “It’s important, not just for yourself but for your family as well.”
Ruthi said the best place of safety is a place like a basement or storm shelter, someplace sturdy that can protect you from debris.
“If you don’t have a basement, go to a room with as many interior walls as possible to protect you,” he said.
It’s also important to have a preparedness kit, Green said. It should have enough supplies for three to five days subject to power outages and no clean water.
It should include such things as nonperishable food, water, prescription medication, first aid kit, flashlights with extra batteries, power cells for electronic devices, portable radios with extra batteries, a change of clothes and canned pet food if you have a pet.
Additionally, Ruthi said, include an extra pair of glasses and a sturdy pair of shoes.
“If your house gets blown away, there will be exposed electrical wires and broken glass and other things you don’t want to be walking over,” he said.
Green said it’s also a good idea to have copies or originals of important documents in waterproof containers or pouches.
Ruthi agreed and said people should include a form of identification and money, too.
“If we have a major disaster like a flood or tornado, your ID and billfold may not be there, so it’s important to have an ID in a place of safety,” he said.