May 20, 2013

Weather service: 3 tornadoes touched down in Sedgwick County, 4 others in Cowley, Sumner

If you thought there was a lot of commotion Sunday for only one tornado, you’re right.

If you thought there was a lot of commotion Sunday for only one tornado, you’re right.

Preliminary information Monday showed seven, possibly eight, different tornadoes touched down in a three-county area, said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita.

Three of those dipped to the ground Sunday afternoon in Sedgwick County – two near Viola, southwest of Wichita, and a third near MacArthur and Ridge, south and southwest of Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Cowley and Sumner counties each saw two tornadoes, Hayes said, adding that further research may show a third tornado touched down in Sumner County.

While repair crews were still dealing with power outages, downed power lines and some road closures in Wichita the day after the storm whipped through with tornadoes, high winds, rain and hail, the area survived pretty well, said Randy Duncan, Sedgwick County’s emergency management director.

“There was relatively minor damage to property,” he said. “Now, if you’re a homeowner and had that damage, it’s not minor to you. I understand that. But from a catastrophic standpoint, it was a minor thing.

“There were no injuries or fatalities. That’s remarkable.”

The tornadoes were significantly wrapped in rain, which may have lessened their intensity, Chance said.

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “When you have the rain falling, it has a tendency to cool the air, so that could have potentially weakened the storm. That’s one of the factors that could have gone into that.”

Preliminary information indicated that the tornadoes near the airport and the one near Udall were rated EF-1, the second-lowest strength with winds at 86 to 110 mph, Chance said. The others are considered EF-0 tornadoes, he said.

Chance said he’s waiting to get some high-resolution radar information from storm chasers so he can determine more exact information.

A tornado also caused damage in rural Lyon County late Sunday afternoon, according to the Kansas Adjutant General’s Office.

In Sedgwick County, Duncan’s official count showed 25 properties in Sedgwick County sustained structural damage.

“But I know there was cosmetic damage to a lot more,” he added. “And then there are the cars. A friend of mine said his car looked like a golf ball because of all the dimples from the hail.”

Insurance companies said they were sending extra manpower to the area to help deal with thousands of claims.

Loss of power caused the most stir in the Wichita area, creating a full day’s worth of calls to 911 within two hours, county officials said.

Westar Energy as of 8 p.m. Monday night was reporting 80 customers were still without power, according to the company’s website. At the peak of the outage Sunday night, more than 10,500 customers lost power.

All Sedgwick County roads that were affected by the tornado were open late Monday except Maize Road between 55th and 47th Streets. Crews hoped to have those roads cleared of fallen power poles by Monday night, sheriff’s office Lt. Randy Cole said.

“It’s mess out there,” he said of the area that saw 37 poles toppled by the storm.

As for cleaning up the mess, Wichita residents will need to take care of their debris.

The amount wasn’t significant enough for the city to make plans to pick up limbs and such in neighborhoods, said Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works and utilities.

“Debris was very limited,” Pajor said, adding that people should make arrangements with a trash hauler to remove such things as tree limbs or take the items to a disposal transfer station or landfill.

More than 50 city-owned vehicles and about a dozen city buildings were damaged, he added.

The fire station at 13th and Coolidge had roof damage and was leaking, Wichita fire Marshal Brad Crisp said.

In addition, a county fire station in Bel Aire had some of its windows blown out.

Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the Wichita school district, said officials were assessing damage Monday. At least four schools in northeast Wichita – Buckner Elementary, L’Ouverture Elementary, Brooks Middle School and the Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Center – had windows broken, she said.

At least two area high schools had their graduation ceremonies postponed Sunday by the storm and reset for this week.

Independent School’s commencement was held Monday. Maize will hold its ceremony at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wichita State University’s Koch Arena.

Contributing: Suzanne Tobias of The Eagle

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