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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Temperature soars to 102 after midnight Thursday in 'heat burst'

BY STAN FINGER
The Wichita Eagle

Jerilyn Billings thought she had been teleported from Wichita to the desert.

"It was like I was in Phoenix," she said in a Facebook post.

It was no wonder — the temperature as 1 a.m. neared on Thursday had climbed to 102.

Readings surged 17 degrees in 20 minutes — from 85 at 12:22 a.m. to 102 at 12:42 a.m.

It's almost certainly the first time the temperature has soared into triple digits after midnight in Wichita, weather officials said.

The spike was the result of a heat burst, which occurs when dry air plummets to the Earth's surface as a thunderstorm collapses, meteorologists said. As the air nears the ground, it heats dramatically.

"They are rare, but dramatic," WeatherData chief executive Mike Smith wrote of heat bursts in his weather blog Thursday.

Wind speeds of nearly 50 mph accompanied the heat burst in places.

Those winds may have been responsible for outages that knocked out power to nearly 3,000 Westar Energy customers early Thursday morning.

Power was knocked out to nearly 1,300 customers in and around Clearwater just before 12:30 a.m. Another 1,575 customers in downtown Wichita and east of downtown lost power at 12:54 a.m., Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said.

The Clearwater outage lasted for 26 minutes, Penzig said. Power was restored to most downtown Wichita customers at about 2 a.m., though areas near downtown were without power for another couple of hours.

"You have to have perfect conditions... in order to get these things," said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

For starters, it has to be very dry.

Wichita recorded less than 2 1/2 inches of rain in May — nearly 2 inches below normal — and the 0.01 inch that fell midmorning Thursday was the first measurable precipitation this month.

Thursday morning's heat burst resulted from thunderstorms that collapsed in northwest Harper County, sending winds and intense heat surging northeast right into Wichita, Hayes said.

"As the storm is collapsing, there's a lot of compression of air," Hayes said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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