Weather officials were warning of the potential for several strong, long-track tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas on Thursday, and for a while, it looked as if their worst fears would be realized.
A tornado watch for most of southern Kansas was issued at 3 p.m., and a severe thunderstorm warning went out for Barton County – site of a damaging tornado just Tuesday night – not long after that.
Funnel clouds and a brief tornado or two, along with hail the size of ping-pong balls, were reported in or near Great Bend, the Barton County seat. Soon, tornado warnings for radar-indicated rotation were being issued within minutes of each other.
A warning for Pawnee and Rush counties shortly before 5 p.m. was followed by a warning for Barber County after a trained spotter reported a tornado several miles south-southeast of Medicine Lodge.
A rotating wall cloud just west of Greensburg prompted warning sirens to be sounded just after 5 p.m. in the Kiowa County town decimated by a wedge tornado 10 years ago.
Winds topping 70 mph were reported in Pratt County shortly after 5 p.m.
A spotter reported another tornado in Barber County, this one west of Kiowa by a few miles.
A few minutes later, a tornado warning was issued for Ford and Clark counties because of rotation indicated on radar in a strong thunderstorm. Warnings were also issued for Barton, Rice and Ellsworth counties, where hail as large as hen’s eggs and half-dollar coins were reported.
At one stage, there were seven different tornado warnings active at the same time across Kansas on Thursday night.
Hail as large as ping-pong balls fell in Meade County, while golf ball-size hail fell near Halstead in Harvey County shortly after 5 p.m.
A multi-vortex tornado was reported minutes later in western Barton County, near Heizer. Nearly a half-hour later, another tornado was reported northwest of Great Bend.
Cloud rotation near Brookville prompted a tornado warning for Saline County at around 6 p.m., even as strong winds knocked down a utility pole in Hutchinson and the Barton County storms triggered street flooding in Great Bend.
The tornado sirens in Salina were sounded shortly before 6:15 p.m., in response to rotation being detected in the strong thunderstorm moving through Saline County. Winds reached 70 mph just west of Salina shortly before 6:30 p.m.
A rain-wrapped tornado was reported just after 6:30 p.m. a half-mile west of the Salina Airport, moving east.
Farther south, thunderstorms packing winds of 60 mph moved through the Wichita metropolitan area. Localized flooding was reported, but as sunset neared, weather officials began canceling the tornado watch across the state.
By 7 p.m., the Dodge City branch of the weather service had canceled the tornado watch for several western Kansas counties, and for several more by 8:30 p.m.
By then, the tornado watch for the Wichita metropolitan area had been canceled as well. Though more storms rumbled through Wichita late Thursday night, the worst of the storm threat was gone.