FORT RILEY, KS – Spring weather in Kansas can be extreme and unpredictable. To help people prepare, Fort Riley’s Emergency Management Office spearheads their Severe Spring Weather Awareness campaign every year following the four main tenants of the Ready Army program: Be Informed, Make a Plan, Build a Kit, and Get Involved.
Historically, spring severe weather season for Kansas begins in April, but some of the most severe storms occur in May. In order to be prepared, people need to be informed about what the potential dangers are.
The second in a series of five, this article will cover elements of the first Ready Army tenant, Be Informed, by detailing information on two types of common spring severe weather: severe thunderstorms and flash floods.
“Most of the time, thunderstorms are just regular, mild thunderstorms,” said Chris Hallenbeck, Fort Riley Emergency Management coordinator. “But if the conditions are right, then they can turn more severe.”
The National Weather Service issues severe thunderstorm warnings for storms that are currently or are capable of producing winds of 58 mph or stronger and/or hail one inch in diameter or larger. Severe thunderstorms are often much stronger than this minimum criteria, so it is important to take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously.
During the 2019 storm season, numerous storms across Kansas produced hail up to three inches, which is roughly the size of a tea cup or baseball. Damaging winds of 60-80 mph, and even up to 100 mph, were also recorded across the state.
“Hail can not only damage your vehicles, your house - roof, siding - those kinds of things, but it can also be deadly if it is large enough and you are caught outside in it,” said Hallenbeck.
Lightning can be another dangerous aspect of a severe thunderstorm and can strike as far as ten miles away from where it is raining. People can calculate how far their location is from the storm by paying attention to the time between the flash of lighting and sound of thunder. Every five seconds between the lightning and the thunder is equal to one mile between the storm and the observer.
A good rule to remember when it comes to lightning safety is the “30/30” rule: take shelter if there is 30 seconds or less between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder and remain in shelter for 30 minutes after the thunder stops.
“The old saying is ‘when thunder roars, go indoors,’” said Hallenbeck. “Normally, when there’s a thunderstorm, there’s going to be lightening. And the last place you want to be is outside during a lightning storm.”
If you do happen to get caught outdoors in a thunderstorm, avoid hilltops and open fields. Seek shelter in low areas and avoid tall trees. If on water, get to land and seek shelter.
If you are indoors during a lightning storm, avoid places and items that are more likely to conduct electricity, like corded phones, concrete floors and walls, and tubs, showers, and things connected to metal plumbing. Also avoid areas that may not provide adequate shelter, like windows, doors and porches.
Hallenbeck said most dangers associated with severe thunderstorms can be avoided by paying attention to the weather outside and keeping an eye on how the sky looks and how conditions might develop throughout the day.
“The general idea with thunderstorms is just to pay attention and be aware of what the day might play out to be like,” said Hallenbeck.
“A lot of people confuse floods and flash floods,” said Hallenbeck. “A flash floods mean just that: they’re quick, you’re not going to have a lot of time to react. We still have to remain aware of flood events also, which normally develop slowly and allow more reaction time. However, both can be life threating if you do not take the appropriate actions.”
A flash flood is flooding that occurs very rapidly and usually within six hours of heavy rainfall. Flash flooding may occur along creeks, rivers or streams, and also in low lying or urban areas where drainage is poor.
Water levels can rise very quickly during flash flooding, including in locations that may not have actually received the heavy rainfall but are located downstream from areas that did. Flooding is the number one severe weather killer in the U.S.
“First, you need to know if you live in an area that’s prone to flash flooding,” said Hallenbeck. “And if you do, you need to take appropriate measures for that.”
It only takes six inches of flowing water to knock a person down and only two feet to lift most vehicles. Because of this, people should never attempt to drive, swim, or walk through a flash flood or low water crossing. Remember the saying “turn around, don’t drown!”
In the event of a flash flood, evacuate your home if advised to do so by local authorities, get to higher ground, and try to remain tuned in to local weather channels for updates.
When it comes to severe spring weather, being informed can mean the difference between life and death for you or your loved ones. Ensure your family is informed on potential dangers by visiting https://home.army.mil/riley/index.php/about/dir-staff/DPTMS/ready-army for more information and by following the four Ready Army tenants for preparedness.
Next week’s article, Have a Plan, Part 3, will discuss how you can be better prepared to anticipate severe weather emergencies.