Print This Article The Wichita Eagle Back to web version
Monday, July 28, 2014

150 years of Kansas weather


1830: Weather observations are first recorded in Kansas at Fort Leavenworth.

1877: The Wichita Eagle reported floodwaters in the Occidental Hotel at 300 N. Main: "The guests stood in foot-deep water in the hotel. Boats were run up Main street to about Third street."

1879: Tornado destroys the town of Irving in northeast Kansas. The Bureau of Indian Affairs begins to keep weather records for Wichita.

1886: Blizzard paralyzes the state, particularly western Kansas. The January storm system with two blizzards kills dozens of people, thousands of cattle and leaves drifts as high as the railroad cars stranded out on the plains.

1887: Chief U.S. Army Signal Officer publishes report noting its official stance on not reporting tornadoes in advance: "It is believed that the harm done by such a prediction would eventually be greater than that which results from the tornado itself."

1888: U.S. Army Signal Corps keep official Wichita weather records. Information is gathered on how to track weather systems. First report reads: "5/23/8 — Day was Warm & Generally Clear with a Gentle South Breeze."

1891: A weather bureau forms under the Department of Agriculture.

1904: Photographers have a field day with Wichita's flooded downtown, embellishing photographs to show battleships cruising down Main Street.

1915: Two tornadoes touch down in central and south-central Kansas, killing 15 people. The first moves across the southeastern sections of Great Bend, causing $1 million in damage.

Debris from Great Bend was carried 85 miles, and hundreds of dead ducks fall from the sky Another tornado moved across portions of Sedgwick County.

1917: A mile-wide tornado touches down four miles northwest of Cheney and moves northeast through Andale, across the southern edge of Sedgwick, and three miles northeast of Florence. Along the path, 118 farms, houses and businesses are destroyed; 23 people are killed and 70 injured.

1923: More than 18 inches of rain fell on Wichita from May 15 to June 15. More than 600 blocks were under water, mostly in downtown and north Wichita.

1927: A tornado ranging in size from a half-mile to two miles wide traveled on the ground for nearly 100 miles on May 7. It traveled from Barber County through Kingman and Reno counties before dissipating in McPherson County. There were 10 people killed and 300 injured.

1930s: A series of dust storms that hit the Great Plains gave the era the nickname the Dirty Thirties. The worst of the storms fell on April 14, 1935, Palm Sunday, known as Black Sunday.

The storms of the 1930s rank nationally among the most significant events of the 20th century, according to the National Weather Service.

On April 27, 1935, Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, prompting conservation practices.

1944: The worst flooding in Wichita came in 1944, when the city was flooded three times in 11 days. That's also when the City Commission appointed a committee to study flood control. From its report grew the idea for the city's flood control project, known as the Big Ditch.

1947: On April 1 Wichita becomes first in the nation to use radar to track weather systems. The radar was designed to track airplanes and ships during World War II.

1951: In May, Mennonite Disaster Service is formed through two Sunday school classes in Hesston. Their first relief effort comes when the Little Arkansas River flooded downtown Wichita and surrounding neighborhoods. Mennonites helped fill sandbags and put them in place.

A week later, Mennonite volunteers went to Great Bend to respond to another flood.

1951: Large sections of Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and Salina are under water. The July 13, 1951, flood caused more than 100,000 Kansans to be evacuated and flooded more than 1 million acres of farmland.

1955: Tornado sweeps over Udall on May 25, killing 77 people and injuring more than three-fourths of the residents and destroying 192 buildings.

After the tornado, the National Weather Bureau begins its storm spotter program, a network of people trained about the nature of thunderstorms and tornadoes to help encourage people in the storm's path to take cover.

1958: A tornado moves across El Dorado on June 10. About 200 houses were destroyed as a 45-block area was torn apart. A car was thrown 100 yards in the air, crashing through the roof of a house. Fifteen people were killed and 50 more were injured.

1963: Wichita's National Weather Bureau installs surveillance radar, designed specifically for forecasting weather. The system has a range height indicator, allowing meteorologists to look inside a storm system to determine its strength.

Also beginning in the 1960s, satellites are used to photograph storm systems.

1965: The Weather Bureau officially becomes the National Weather Service.

1966: An F5-rated tornado strikes Topeka on June 8, passing over local landmark Burnett's Mound. According to a local Native American legend, this mound was thought to protect the city from tornadoes.

A young Bill Kurtis, working his way through Washburn University's law school as a reporter for WIBW, breaks into regularly scheduled programs to announce to Topekans "for God's sake, take cover." The tornado swept through downtown and Washburn University, overturning Santa Fe Railway trains , crushing buses and damaging houses and businesses.

1971: A blizzard buries southern Kansas with 10-13 inches of snow on Feb. 21. Winds of 25-40 mph reduce visibility to near zero.

When the storm ended around midday on the 22nd, 13 inches of snow had been recorded at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, making this one of the five worst snowstorms ever to hit Wichita since 1888.

1970s: Meteorologists determine how humidity and wind speeds determine how temperatures affect people, creating the heat and wind-chill index.

Summer 1980: The blistering heat first arrived on June 24 when the mercury soared to 103 degrees. Temperatures broke 100 degrees each day for the rest of the month, culminating in a monthly high of 110 on June 30.

July, cleared the 100-degree mark 24 out of 31 days. And in August, 11 of the first 13 days would see triple-digit highs. All told, 20 record high temperatures were set between June 24 and Aug. 13, all of which stand to this day.

1990: Known as the Hesston Tornado, the March 13 tornado began north of Pretty Prairie in Reno County, traveled to a farmstead near Burrton, killing a 6-year-old boy as he huddled in the basement with his family and sweeping on to Hesston. That tornado lifted just outside of Hesston. A second F5 tornado, called the Goessel tornado, killed an elderly woman in her rural house; 60 people were injured. The tornadoes destroyed or damaged about 226 houses and 21 businesses. Checks from a plumbing and heating supply store in Hesston were found 85 miles to the northeast in Manhattan, and a personal check was carried 115 miles.

1991: Tornado touches down in Harper County on April 26, then skips across Sedgwick and Butler counties. It makes a direct hit on McConnell Air Force Base before moving on to Andover in Butler County. Thirteen people are killed.

1998 flood: A foot of rain falls over south-central and southeast Kansas from Halloween through Nov. 2. Major flooding occurs in west Wichita along the Cowskin Creek and in parts of Augusta in Butler County. The "Halloween Flood" resulted in $37.8 million in damage, one death and the evacuation of 5,300 people.

2005: An ice storm moves through the Wichita area Jan. 4-5, leaving thousands without power — some for more than a week.

2007: An EF-5 tornado with winds believed to have been 300 mph tears through Greensburg on May 4, destroying almost all of the town.

Before the tornado, 1,400 residents called Greensburg home. Three years later, the town's population was 900.

2009: Thirty inches of snow — the most ever recorded in Kansas _ is dumped in Pratt on March 27-28.

Source: This information was compiled by Richard Elder, Chance Hayes and Eric Schminke of the Wichita National Weather Service forecast office; and Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and founder of Wichita-based WeatherData.

© 2011 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansas.com