So far, Barton County and Kansas has been fortunate. Reports of severe weather have been minimal in 2015.
But if the past decade is a guide, Barton County will be targeted for severe weather more often than virtually every county in Kansas. Since 1950, Barton County ranks second for tornado reports behind Sherman County, which features an abundance of weak twisters.
Chance Hayes, chief meteorologist for Wichita’s National Weather Service, said Barton County has averaged 5.4 tornado warnings per year over the past 10 years. The city of Great Bend was under the tornado warning 50 percent of the time.
“It’s been an extremely slow year,” Hayes said.
The massive state of Texas has more severe weather reports than Kansas, but Oklahoma and Kansas top the list for most severe weather reports per square mile.
“That’s why it’s important for people to be aware that severe weather is something we live with,” Hayes said. “We have severe weather move through Barton County quite frequently every year.”
Tuesday’s annual weather spotter training in Great Bend guarantees more resources will be available to report severe weather.
Hayes said trained weather spotters are an invaluable resource to confirm what radar indicates. Spotters guarantee the accuracy of severe weather reports.
“We’re very confident in our radar interpretation,” Hayes said. “But many times, what we’re seeing is 7,500 feet off the ground. It lends more credibility to what we’re seeing. It builds our confidence in knowing what we are looking at. We never know for sure whether it’s a wall cloud or whether it’s producing a tornado other than what folks tell us.”
Hayes said radar information will indicate a rotating storm with rotational velocities that would generate a tornadic storm. Hayes said radar-indicated tornadoes are 80 percent accurate.
“Until we get that spotter feedback, we are not 100 percent sure,” he said.
Barton County spotters can report severe weather to 620-793-1920, a number staffed around the clock. Reports are accepted for wind, hail, rainfall and flooding, wall clouds and tornadoes, accompanied by time and exact location.
Amy Miller, Barton County emergency manager, said the best way the public can help is to provide reports from a safe location, not by driving around chasing severe storms.
It’s been a growing concern for emergency personnel to fight through traffic from people wanting to capture video of severe storms.
“The best way is to report from a location where you can get into safety,” Miller said. “It’s always comes down to making good, safe decisions.”
Hayes said because severe weather is common in Kansas, there is always a chance to not take the warnings seriously all the time.
“It’s very important you don’t take chances and become complacent,” he said. “You need to pay attention to weather radio and television warnings. But we want those warnings to be funneled to you.”
Hayes said most new phones have the capability to receive weather alerts wired to your exact location. A warning is often issued for an entire county when only part of that county is affected. Many modern cell phones have the capability to receive emergency weather alerts through FEMA, The National Weather Service and cell-phone carriers.
“There are applications that use GPS technology,” Hayes said. “My phone will buzz if my location is under a warning. You want that weather information funneled to you and your location.”
Hayes said late-evening severe storms are typically in the last stages of their life, but have produced some dangerous storms.
“They are in the later stages of the storm,” he said. “When the suns sets, you lose the heat and they form into squall lines. Their last hurray is at night. The strength comes from all the environmental ingredients.”
Those ingredients make spring-time storms the most dangerous storms. The 2007 Greensburg tornado and 2001 Hoisington tornado were late-night storms.
The National Weather Service watch offers various levels of risk for severe weather — slight, moderate and high risk. Hayes said the Weather Channel meteorologists follow a similar pattern by issuing Tor:con alerts that forecast a probability of a warning within 50 miles of a location.