Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2001

National Weather Service tracked 2000 tornado for miles

May 9, 2001

The National Weather Service meteorologists weren't sure that any severe weather would develop on the night of May 11, 2000.

"We knew that if there was any kind of a storm, it would be substantial," Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service said the day after the storm. "Once it developed, we knew it was show time."

The storm that eventually slammed a tornado into Tonganoxie began its dance near Topeka.

Bunting said a tornado warning sounded at 9:31 p.m. for southern Leavenworth County and a tornado was reported on the west side of Tonganoxie at 9:55 p.m.

"The national average is 10 minutes of notice. That, and the fact that people knew what to do, probably played a big part in nobody getting hurt," Bunting said.

Here is the timeline of the May 11, 2000, storm as it developed:

7 p.m.: Severe weather watches were posted for east central Kansas.

8:53: Tornado spotted by trained weather spotter in Grantville.

9:03: Tornado reported near Newman in Jefferson County along U.S. Highway 24.

9:17: Tornado reported near Perry, along U.S. Highway 24. Power lines were down.

9:22: 1 1/4 inch hail reported four miles northeast of Topeka.

9:27: National Weather Service issued a severe weather statement for Leavenworth County. This statement said severe weather was possible.

9:27: Tornado reported a half mile northeast of Williamstown in Jefferson County. Windows were blown out.

9:31: Tornado warning sounded in southern Leavenworth County.

9:38: One mile south of Perry, 2 3/4 inch hail reported.

9:55: Tornado reported on west side of Tonganoxie.

Bunting said it wasn't unusual for it to appear that more than one tornado had hit. "Straight line winds can cause substantial damage," he said. "We've seen 70 to 90 mile per hour straight line winds before."

While predicting storms as they happen has improved with technology, Bunting said tornado season is too unpredictable.

"We can't say this will be a bad year or worse year. When forecasting, we look at will there be a lot of storms and where will they hit. We just don't know either answer with any reliability," Bunting said.

There are six levels of tornado assessment on the Fujita scale. F0 storms have winds less than 74 mph. F1 winds are 75-110, F2 111-150, F3 150-204, F4 204-260, F5 261-318 mph. Where the tornado hits is usually one of the defining factors in tornado damage.

"An F5 event in an open field isn't a memorable event. A tornado half that intensity in a town can cause considerable damage," Bunting said.

Tonganoxie's storm was rated as an F1.

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