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Kansas sees tornadoes as spring storm system hits Plains, West

  • Associated Press
  • Published Sunday, May 11, 2014, at 8:13 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at 8:04 a.m.

A powerful spring storm spawned several tornadoes across the Plains, including in Kansas, and dropped more than a foot of sloppy, wet snow in parts of Colorado and Wyoming on Mother’s Day. Forecasters had warned that instability ahead of the cold front could create conditions ripe for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in the Plains states.

Strong thunderstorms and tornadoes developed in Kansas and Nebraska, including one twister that touched down near McPherson on Sunday night. There were no further details about damage or injuries.

The National Weather Service also issued a winter storm warning for most of northern Colorado and parts of southern Wyoming through Monday morning. The storm also created high winds across the West.

Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist for the weather service in Boulder, Colo., said the weather pattern is typical for this time of year, and “it’s going to be kind of the same thing pretty much through the end of June.”

Several tornadoes were reported in southeastern Nebraska, the weather service said, blowing down outbuildings and damaging power poles and irrigation systems. Hail and strong winds headed south into Kansas, and a tornado watch was issued for parts of Oklahoma.

Strong storms marched across Kansas late Sunday afternoon into the evening. Multivortex tornadoes were reported, forcing residents in Kinsley, Larned and Great Bend to take cover. Pawnee Rock farmer and rancher John Schmidt said the storm hit while he was having dinner at Applebee’s in Great Bend. The restaurant’s grill was temporarily shut down, but there was “no damage and little rain.”

Winds of 75 mph were reported near Kinsley.

In Stafford County north of Dillwyn, golf ball-sized hail was reported falling shortly before 7 p.m. There was rain but not enough to end a drought and just enough hail to damage what wheat was still standing, one resident said.

Much of central Kansas remained in a tornado watch until 10 p.m. Sunday.

“As we go through the evening, the threat of the tornado risk diminishes, but the storms will evolve into straight-line winds,” said Kevin Darmofal, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wichita. “They won’t be the intensity of storms we’ve seen in central Kansas.”

In Colorado, Department of Transportation officials said plunging temperatures and heavy, wet snow created icy conditions and forced several closures along I-70 west of Denver on Sunday afternoon. Multiple accidents were reported on the mountain corridor, frustrating skiers and snowboarders eager to get a few more runs in before the season ends. Authorities also closed parts of I-25 because of several accidents.

Snow amounts could vary greatly, but up to 15 inches could fall at higher elevations and 4 to 9 inches could fall at lower elevations, including Denver and other cities along Colorado’s Front Range.

“May snow certainly isn’t unheard of here in Colorado, even down in the Denver metro area,” said David Barjenbruch, another weather service meteorologist in Boulder. “If we see the total accumulations that we are anticipating from this storm, we are certainly going to see a top 10 May snow event for the Denver metro area.”

Barjenbruch said a foot of snow had already fallen in the foothills of Larimer County northwest of Denver by Sunday morning, and workers along much of the Front Range can expect a “slushy, sloppy morning commute” Monday.

The weather service also warned that snow could be heavy and wet enough to snap tree limbs and power lines, causing power failures. Winds gusting up to 30 mph could reduce visibility, and slushy roads could make driving treacherous.

Julie Smith, a spokeswoman for Denver International Airport, said crews had treated runways in expectation of dropping temperatures Sunday night.

“At this point, we are seeing some delays with our airlines while they are getting their de-icing operations up and running, and we do expect the airlines to be fully de-icing in the morning,” she said.

In southern Wyoming, the storm forced transportation officials to close a 150-mile stretch of I-80 from Cheyenne to Rawlins on Sunday.

In the West, high winds at the bottom of the storm sent dust blowing across Arizona and New Mexico, and the Los Angeles and Las Vegas areas were under “red flag” fire warnings, with authorities saying blazes could quickly spread out of control under low humidity, gusty winds and dry conditions.

Contributing: Beccy Tanner of The Eagle

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