Barton County and central Kansas were no strangers to nasty weather last year. Now, with the beginning of this year’s severe weather season looming, safety officials are urging folks to be ready.
To this end, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management announced that Gov. Jeff Colyer will sign a proclamation Feb. 20 marking the week of March 5-9 as “Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas.” The signing will take place in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office in the Kansas Statehouse at 1:30 p.m.
“You just never know when Severe Weather Week comes around, what kind of weather you’ll be having,” said Barton County Emergency Manager Amy Miller. This has been an odd, dry winter raising concerns of fires and early stormy weather.
That is why the gubernatorial proclamation highlights the need for awareness of approaching severe weather and the value of emergency preparedness. Although there were 60 documented tornadoes in the state last year, no deaths were attributed to those events and credits early warning, spotter and preparedness systems helping to contribute to fewer lives lost and fewer injuries.
Of those 60 twisters, Barton County had the most of any county with five, noted Chance Hayes, Wichtia-based National Weather Service meteorologist. Also, the May 16 tornado was the strongest recorded in Kansas at EF 3 and had the longest track at over 26 miles.
This storm also caused the only two tornado-related injuries in the state. It was also the most costly with damage estimated at $658,000.
With this in mind, Kansans are also urged to take part in the statewide tornado safety drill at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 6. If severe weather is expected on or around the test time on March 6th it will be postponed to the backup date. The backup date for the tornado drill will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 8.
Other types of weather
But, looking at last year, Hayes said there was more than wind damage in central Kansas.
A significant ice storm impacted much of the state over the weekend of Jan. 13-16. Ice accumulations of at least a quarter inch were common with crippling amounts of up to three quarters of an inch across portions of western and central Kansas including communities such as Medicine Lodge, Great Bend, Russell and Dodge City.
Tree and powerline damage was widespread, and slick roads led to numerous accidents. Approximately 4,000 homes were without power across Barton, Harper, Kingman and Rice counties.
Then, on March 6, grass fires approached the town of Wilson in Ellsworth County from the northwest forcing residents to evacuate. Residents were eventually allowed back into their homes later that night.
The reason for the observance
“It doesn’t take a lot of time or a lot of money to ensure you and your family are prepared,” said Angee Morgan, KDEM deputy director. “If you don’t already have an emergency kit, start now by buying a few extra batteries and high-energy snacks during your weekly shopping. Throw a change of clothes, an old pair of glasses and a pair of shoes in your kit.
“Check your first aid kit and make sure it’s complete and up-to-date,” said Morgan. “Doing a little bit each week makes it easier to prepare for unexpected events, particularly when you get the entire family involved in gathering the supplies and making an emergency plan.
“If you don’t have a specially-constructed storm shelter or a basement, do you know where the safest place in your home is? Do you know how to safely shut off the gas or electricity? If you become separated, do you have a meeting area? How will you communicate with family members who may not be at home when a disaster hits or your loved ones who will be wondering about your safety? These are the things you will need to think about when making your plan.”
Morgan said more information on emergency preparedness and building an emergency kit can be found online at www.ksready.gov.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management will be posting preparedness information and hosting challenges on its Facebook page throughout the week. KDEM also has an online “Kansas Preparedness Challenge.”
Completing each monthly challenge makes participants eligible for a prize drawing. Go to www.ksready.gov and click on the “Kansas Preparedness Challenge” link to get started.
For more information on emergency preparedness, go to www.ksready.gov, www.redcross.org, or www.fema.gov.