Even as they were tallying the damage reports from Sunday night’s severe weather, officials in McPherson County on Monday were breathing a sigh of relief.
“Yeah – a big one,” said Julie McClure, assistant director of McPherson County Emergency Management.
A large tornado touched down shortly after 10 p.m. Sunday near the junction of U.S. 135 and K-61, just outside of town. Video of the tornado – which was illuminated only by flashes from lightning strikes or power flashes as utility poles were knocked down – showed the NCRA refinery nearby.
“We’re very fortunate,” McClure said. “If NCRA is the only thing that’s hit – just the ramifications from that would have been overwhelming.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center logged 38 reports of tornadoes in five states Sunday, including eight in Kansas.
“They were all brief touchdowns,” National Weather Service meteorologist Robb Lawson said. “They were not on the ground for long.”
Most of the Kansas reports were in McPherson County, which escaped with some downed utility poles, damaged irrigation systems and flattened trees.
“It yo-yoed up and down,” McClure said. “There were several of them throughout the county.
“Some of them were rain-wrapped,” she said of the tornadoes. Spotters scattered around the county “could see nothing.”
They tracked the tornadoes by the power bursts that occurred as power poles were struck, she said.
“Definitely, we dodged a bullet here,” McPherson city administrator Nick Gregory said. “It would have been pretty devastating if it hit the refinery.”
A $500 million coker is being built at the refinery, he said, with a few thousand temporary workers on site for the construction project.
Tornadoes also touched down in Rice, Pawnee and Edwards counties in central Kansas, though no significant damage was reported. The storms also brought large hail and heavy rains, with more than 5 inches of rain reported in and northeast of Dodge City, 4 inches in Harvey County and 3 inches in Reno County.
Wichita missed out on substantial rainfall, recording less than a half-inch by the time showers moved out of the metro area on Monday.
“Better than nothing, right?” Lawson said.
The 0.32 inches that fell Saturday night and early Sunday was the most rain in Wichita in more than five weeks. Significantly, however, more than 3 inches of rain fell across a broad swath of the drainage basin for Cheney Reservoir, which is Wichita’s primary source of drinking water.
Contributing: Associated Press