If you have lived in Kansas for any significant amount of time, you can probably
feel it coming in the air. The wind picks up, the temperature drops, and the sky turns dark.
Spring Kansas thunderstorms are notorious for producing large hail, heavy winds and rain,
and tornadoes. It has been several years, however, since Kansas, especially the Wichita
area, has had a highly-active tornado season. Experts say that could change this year.
In 2020, only 17 confirmed tornadoes touched down across Kansas. This was the lowest total in over 40 years, as Kansas usually averages about 90 per year.
Andover is nearing the 30th anniversary of the F5 tornado that killed 17 people on April 26, 1991.
The Andover tornado began near McConnell Air Force Base in southeast Wichita. As it headed toward Andover, it grew to an F5 - the largest tornado on the scale. At nearly half a mile wide, it completely obliterated the mobile home park that was just west of ACHS (and has since been rebuilt in the same location). Warning sirens failed, and those who did not hear the police sirens in the streets alerting residents to the danger did not make it to shelters in time. The mobile homes were thrown hundreds of yards, killing those who did not evacuate.
As the anniversary of those tragic events approaches, the upcoming season brings atmospheric conditions that could make 2021 an active tornado season. 2007 and 2011 were highly active years for tornadoes across the midwest. In 2007, the town of Greensburg, Kansas was decimated by an EF-5 tornado. The tornado seasons of both years were preceded by particularly cold winters - very similar to what Kansas experienced in these past few months creating inclement weather conditions for students.
Ross Janssen, Chief Meteorologist of KWCH 12 in Wichita, told viewers (via KWCH.com) that the “La Nina” season that just occurred in the Pacific Ocean - in which waters are unusually cool-, combined with the active winter that the midwest experienced, could lead to more severe weather this spring.
Other experts made differing predictions, however.
One AccuWeather meteorologist told the Wichita Eagle that he expected the high pressure system in the southwestern United States to help keep major severe storms east of Kansas for the most part.
While it is difficult to accurately predict severe weather, especially tornadoes, so far in advance, it is always important to be prepared for any event that could occur, especially in the heart of tornado alley.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) emphasizes the importance of being prepared to take shelter. When a tornado watch is issued, people must be ready to move to a basement or underground shelter (preferably), or an interior room (if an underground space is not available), at a moment’s notice. Once a tornado warning is issued, it is important to move as quickly as possible to these locations, bringing a flashlight, cell phone, and water with you. Stay away from windows, and cover your head if you are not underground.
1991 was a terribly tragic year for the City of Andover. Although it is unlikely that such a strong tornado could hit the same place again, it is important to be prepared so that if it does, the loss of life would be much less.