May 31, 2012

After storms, insurers rush while farmers relax

A thunderstorm that ravaged Sedgwick County with rain, hail and winds of up to 70 mph sent residents scurrying to file insurance claims and kept Westar Energy crews busy Thursday, but area crops escaped largely unscathed.

A thunderstorm that ravaged Sedgwick County with rain, hail and winds of up to 70 mph sent residents scurrying to file insurance claims and kept Westar Energy crews busy Thursday, but area crops escaped largely unscathed.

“It appears we dodged a bullet,” Sedgwick County extension agent Gary Cramer said. “There’s very little damage to crops around here.”

Wednesday night’s storm that brought nearly 2 inches of rain in some parts of the county will keep farmers from continuing the wheat harvest for a day or two – unless forecasts of a chance for scattered thunderstorms through the weekend actually materialize and delay it longer – but Cramer said it was a “crop-saving rain” for other crops.

Roofers and auto body shops had a busy day.

“Our phones have been pretty lit up,” said Mike Landwehr, owner of Landwehr Roofing in Wichita. “We’re trying to get to them as soon as we can.”

After a peak outage of more than 5,000 Westar customers in the county around midnight, the total dropped to about 1,700 by early evening Thursday, according to its website. Power is expected to be restored to all customers by Thursday night, spokesman Nick Bundy said.

At one time about 15,000 were without power in Westar’s service area that covers the eastern half of Kansas with the main outages in Wichita, Hutchinson, Salina and Topeka.

Most of outages in Wichita were caused by tree limbs falling on lines, although a handful of poles were knocked down, Bundy said.

The city’s hail generally ranged from half an inch to 2 inches, said Eric Schminke of the National Weather Service in Wichita. Most of it fell shortly after 5 p.m.

The hail did enough damage to city-owned Sim Park Golf Course that the course was closed Thursday, said Doug Kupper, director of park and recreation. The course will reopen today.

The storm damaged all 18 greens and caused significant leaf litter on the course.

City crews were busy repairing divots “with spoons and probably dining forks” and using mowers to mulch the leaf litter, Kupper said.

“Mother Nature put too many divots into the greens over there to make it playable,” Kupper said.

Botanica, located next to the golf course, was also affected by the hailstorm but remained open.

“Some of our bigger flowers got shredded pretty heavily by the hail stones,” Kupper said.

The hail also shredded trees from South Riverside Park to Evergreen Park, near 25th and Arkansas.

Top wind speeds ranged from 60 to 70 mph, with the strongest winds in Sedgwick, Butler and Sumner counties, Schminke said. The maximum sustained speed for two minutes at the weather service’s headquarters near Mid-Continent Airport was 41 mph, coming shortly before 8 p.m., he said.

“There was quite a bit of wind damage in Park City,” Schminke said.

Seven trees were snapped off at the ground or uprooted with the largest tree 2 feet in diameter. A mobile-home park in Park City sustained damage, he said.

In northeast Wichita shortly after 6 p.m., Schminke said, a trampoline was wrapped around a neighbor’s fence.

Moundridge was hit with major tree damage and had numerous power poles down, he said.

There was enough hail that insurance claim offices, auto body shops and roofers were flooded with calls.

State Farm, which insures close to 100,000 homes in Sedgwick County, is expecting to get more than 1,000 claims filed on home damages, including roofs, siding, guttering and windows.

“We already had 50 people turn in claims by the time I came to work at 6 a.m.,” said Rick Beckler, a claim team manager for State Farm. “There was hail in all of Wichita for a good 30 minutes. These hail stones were very, very hard.”

Beckler said his company’s claims show that some of the greatest damage was in a one square mile area in west Wichita – bordered by Central north to 13th and Ridge west to Tyler. Concrete roofing tiles were broken on homes near the Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, he said.

In another area on South Andover Road, he said, “it almost looks like each shingle was damaged.”

Kyle Armagost, manager of Collision Center of Andover, an auto body repair shop, said he had done more than 50 estimates by noon. They weren’t all just dents.

“We got a Mercedes in here that looks like it took the brunt of the storm,” Armagost said. “The back glass is all broken out, and it looks like a snow drift in the back seat. If it’s knocking out windows, it means you’re getting at least golf-ball-size hail coming down at a pretty good velocity.”

J.R. Sartin, general manager of Auto Craft Collision Repair, said each of the company’s four locations in Wichita had done estimates on more than 60 vehicles by noon.

“And it’s way early,” Sartin said. “Usually about three days after the storm is when you get the major influx. People get their claims pushed back.”

Malfunctioning siren

A malfunctioning storm siren near Seneca and I-235 kept going off overnight and repeatedly woke up residents, said Randy Duncan, the Sedgwick County emergency manager. There were no tornado warnings for the area.

The first report of that siren sounding came in about midnight, Duncan said. Initial attempts to turn off the siren remotely failed.

“I went out to the site and heard it going off myself at 5 a.m. and 5:45,” he said, “so I can vouch for it going off. Each time lasted about a minute.”

After the blast at 5:45 a.m., workers physically shut the siren off and then reactivated it. There weren’t any more reports of the siren going off, Duncan said late Thursday afternoon.

“We’re not sure why it was going off,” he said. “We’re looking into it.”

The official rain total at the MidContinent Airport was 1.47 inches, bringing the total precipitation for May to 2.1 inches. But the National Weather Service said Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita reported 1.87 inches.


The rain was good for the corn, grain sorghum and soybeans. “There were beginning signs of it being too dry,” said Cramer of the Extension Service. “It was a crop-saving rain. If we’d gone another 10 days or two weeks without rain, we’d really be suffering.”

Overall, Sedgwick County farmers have completed about half of their wheat harvest, Cramer said. “If it dries up and we don’t get any more rain,” he added, “we’ll be done in 10 days.”

Hail did some damage to the corn and soybeans in eastern parts of the county, but didn’t hurt the wheat.

“We might have lost a few kernels out of the heads,” Cramer said, “but none of the fields were damaged significantly. We just didn’t get that much hail.”

But Jon Kerschen, who farms about 3,000 acres north of Garden Plain and some south of town, said he’s cut about 20 percent of his wheat. He estimates his remaining wheat sustained a 15 percent loss from the hail.

“There’s enough that we’ll have an adjuster come out,” Kerschen said. “All in all, it’s pretty good. But just walking around, you can see some broken heads, wheat on the ground and stems broken over.”

His farm received 2 inches of rain Thursday on top of an inch from the previous night. Wind and hail stripped leafs to some of his corn, he said.

“But it’s not real bad,” Kerschen said. “The benefit of the rain is going to outweigh the damage from the hail.”

In western Kansas, baseball-size hail was reported north of Hays and significantly damaged wheat in Ellis County, where harvesting had barely begun.

One wheat field was reported to be 90 percent wiped out, said Stacy Campbell, Ellis County’s extension agent. Other areas of the county ranged from no damage to 30 percent, he added.

Besides Ellis County, the National Weather Service’s office in Dodge City said there were large amounts of hail in Rush, Ness and Hodgeman counties. The hail ranged in size from golf balls to tennis balls in most areas, forecaster John Finch said.

His office issued a tornado warning Wednesday night but no tornadoes touched down, Finch said.

“Just high winds in Jetmore. Wind speeds aren’t measured in rural areas but we have reports estimating of 70 miles an hour and higher in Hodgeman and Rush counties,” he added.

Dodge City received 0.4 of an inch, but Rush County had more than three inches.

Other rain totals showed 0.92 inches in Newton, 0.55 in Chanute and 0.9 in Russell.

Contributing: Sarah Tucker of The Eagle

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