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Storm with rain, winds topping 70 mph descends on Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, June 27, 2013, at 7:16 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 9, 2013, at 10:11 a.m.

Winds topping 70 mph and torrential rain blew through Sedgwick County early Thursday evening, stirring up dirt, downing tree limbs and leaving thousands of people without power.

As high winds and a thunderstorm moved into Wichita about 6:45 p.m., emergency crews began to handle numerous reports of large limbs – some several inches in diameter – snapping off of trees and falling into the streets, on cars and on homes. Power lines and poles were down.

The force of the winds ripped shingles off roofs.

The storm even knocked down some 2- to 3-foot-diameter trees on Douglas between 120th to 127th streets East, said Vanessa Pearce, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Northwest Wichitans also battled lots of downed limbs in the streets and in yards, she added.

“It’s hit Wichita pretty hard,” said Chris Jakub, another meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita. He said the winds were the biggest concern with the southerly-moving thunderstorm.

Wichita’s peak gust topped out at 89 mph, Pearce said. McPherson recorded a gust of 92 mph before the storm snapped the anenometer, which measures wind speed. Butler County estimated 70 mph winds; Jabara Airport in Wichita measured 62 mph; and McConnell Air Force Base saw 63 mph gusts, she said.

Gusts were powerful enough to topple a semi traveling south on the turnpike near 47th Street around 7 p.m., Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper DaVon Brame said. The driver, a man in his 50s from Texas, was trapped in the truck briefly, then was taken to Wesley Medical Center in critical condition. He suffered “a pretty good gash” on his head and his arm, Brame said.

“The winds were kicking pretty good,” Brame said of patrolling the turnpike as the storm passed through. He added that some people were seeking shelter under overpasses.

Jakub, of the National Weather Service, said: “It’s going to be pretty bad. There will be a lot of clean-up.”

By 10 p.m., Westar Energy reported more than 20,800 customers without power in Sedgwick County. Earlier in the evening, 1,080 had lost power in Harvey County, according to Westar; 635 were without power in McPherson County; and 559 in Reno County.

Westar said crews would work through the night to restore power. Customers can call 1-800-LIGHTKS to report outages.

The winds also took a toll on fireworks tents selling goods for the upcoming holiday. One blew over at 167th and Kellogg in west Wichita, law enforcement reported. Another was demolished in Maize, a caller to The Eagle said.

Local emergency crews responded to several reports of fires and sparking power lines in and around Wichita while the storm raged through. A Sedgwick County dispatch supervisor said she could not provide total number of fires by 10 p.m. because 911 “was still slammed” with calls.

In Derby, the storm is being blamed for a fire that sparked at MJB Heating and Cooling, 201 S. Baltimore, around 7 p.m. Local fire crews, including those from Sedgwick County, were called to assist Derby firefighters. One witness there told The Eagle he tried to call 911 to report the fire but got no answer.

Although rain fell steadily for several minutes while the thunderstorm moved through the metro area, Pearce, of the National Weather Services, said west Wichita had reported the most rainfall – half an inch – by about 9:30 p.m.

“It moved through pretty quickly,” she said of the storm. “So that’s why there wasn’t more.”

Pearce said one storm spotter reported up to 6 inches of standing water in Old Town; other areas of town also saw street flooding. Although a flood warning issued for Sedgwick County on Thursday night, it was canceled nearly two hours before it was set to expire, she said.

She added that Wichita experienced a heat burst – a massive rush of warm air – as the storm started collapsing shortly after 8:30 p.m. The temperature rose from 74 degree to 98 in about 10 minutes, she said.

Contributing: John Boogert of The Eagle

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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