May 4, 2007, will be a day many Kansans always remember. On that fateful day the town of Greensburg, in Kiowa County, was all but wiped off the face of the earth.
The tornado that hit the small Kansas community of 1,500 killed 11 people and injured dozens more. Ninety percent of the town was destroyed including 961 homes and businesses. Another 216 received major damage. Wind speeds of more than 200 miles per hour accompanied this storm.
Other killer tornadoes occurred that day with a death in Pratt County and another in Stafford County. Some of these monster twisters were nearly two miles wide. Eleven tornadoes occurred May 4.
The next day another 36 tornadoes were reported in Kansas, falling just short of the all time record of 39 tornadoes in one day set in June 1992. Fourteen tornado-related fatalities were reported last year, including 82 injuries, according to the National Weather Service in Topeka. Thirteen of these fatalities occurred during the May 4-5 outbreak.
In stark contrast to this tornado onslaught of 2007, Kansas recorded the longest tornado drought in 24 years during 2009. Not until April 22, 2010 did the first tornado touch down in the Sunflower State. Prior to this tornado, the last twister reported in Kansas was back on Aug. 2, 2009. This resulted in 262 days without a reported tornado in Kansas.
There were 88 tornadoes in Kansas last year, making it the 15th most active year in state history. Most of the tornadoes were weak, however. Only one, in Kingman County on May 10, earned as much as an EF2 rating. Fortunately, no deaths and no injuries were blamed on tornadoes in Kansas last year.
Tornadoes touched down on 21 days, including 15 tornadoes on May 10. You may remember that day for the swarm of national media attention focused on Kansas because forecasters had predicted a significant outbreak. It never quite materialized – at least with the intensity anticipated.
The first tornado of 2010 came on April 24 in Kearny County, the last on Sept. 25 in Comanche County.
When it comes to safety concerning tornadoes, the bottom line remains the same: tune in, stay informed and keep an eye on the sky.
Remember pay attention when you hear a tornado watch because this means severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible over a wide area. Tornado warnings are issued when Doppler radar indicates tornadoes are forming or a trained weather spotter has sighted a twister. This warning will tell the location, and if possible, movement, estimated speed and the towns in the tornado path.
Think ahead during this upcoming severe weather season. Listen to forecasts daily, key into local weather conditions in your area. Know where your nearest shelter is and remember when a tornado threatens, immediate action may save you and your loved ones’ lives.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.