Authorities assessing storm damage in and around Wichita

WICHITA — Authorities around Wichita and south-central Kansas spent Thursday assessing the damage wrought by an outbreak of intense thunderstorms that delivered massive hail, a handful of brief tornadoes and potent winds to the region Wednesday night.

Power outages caused by the storm closed all schools in Winfield and two schools in Haysville: Campus High School and Ruth Clark Elementary.

Large hail pummeled a large section of Wichita, especially areas in the southern and western parts of the city.

"We did have significant damage in some parts of our city," said Chris Carrier, director of public works for Wichita.

National Weather Service officials are investigating whether a hailstone that fell near Pawnee and Maize Road on Wednesday night is the largest ever recorded in Kansas.

"They're out looking at it right now," said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the Wichita branch of the weather service.

Preliminary assessments indicate the stone has the largest diameter ever recorded in Kansas. It has a diameter of 7.75 inches, easily surpassing the previous record 5.7 inches of the hailstone that fell in Coffeyville on Sept. 3, 1970.

Hail the size of baseballs was reported in many neighborhoods of Wichita, and stones the size of grapefruits and tennis balls were also reported.

"Hail was so large and heavy it came all the way through the roof" of the terminal building at Mid-Continent Airport, said Valerie Wise, air service and business development manager.

The worst damage was in the concourse next to Gates 9, 11 and 12, she said. More stones punched holes in skylights above the ticketing area.

Three aircraft _ one each from Continental, United and Federal Express _ were damaged by hail and need to be towed to their maintenance sheds for repairs, she said.

A half-dozen vehicles in the long-term parking lot had windshields or back windows shattered by hail. Airport passengers and employees were sent to the terminal's basement storm shelter at the height of the storm, she said.

The back nine at Tex Consolver Golf Course had to be closed today because hail so heavily damaged greens at the municipal course near the airport.

"You could see those humongous hailstones just drilling the fairways" at Tex Consolver, said Ken Cook, a meteorologist for the weather service, which is located across Tyler Road from the course.

"The water was splashing 15 to 20 feet in the air when the hail would hit the ground. It was amazing."

Auburn Hills Golf Course was closed until further notice because hail at least as large as golf balls so badly damaged the greens, Carrier said.

Volunteers converged on the course to help the grounds crew making repairs to the greens, which were badly pocked with deep divots.

The Storm Prediction Center logged nine reports of tornadoes in Kansas Wednesday night: four in Sedgwick County, three in Cowley County and two in Greenwood County.

But Cook said the actual number of tornadoes spawned by the storm system is likely less than that.

A tornado touched down seven miles west of Derby at 6:28 p.m., another touched down six miles east of Clearwater at 6:34 p.m., another was on the ground briefly a mile east of Mulvane at 6:52 p.m., and a fourth touched down in the county a mile east of Mulvane at 7:22 p.m.

No damage or injuries were reported in connection with the tornadoes, however.

Two minor injuries were reported at William Newton Memorial Hospital in Winfield on Wednesday night from the storm, a house supervisor at the hospital said.

Hundreds of campers in town for the Walnut Valley Festival huddled under the protection of the grandstand at the fairgrounds, and numerous tents and awnings were blown away or damaged near U.S. 160, witnesses said.

The worst of the damage in Wichita appears to have taken place in an area bordered by Hydraulic on the east, Meridian on the west, Pawnee on the north and 63rd Street South, Carrier said.

On Monday, city crews will begin collecting and disposing of tree limbs and branches left at the curb, Carrier said.

Crews will not pick up roof or fence debris, patio furniture or other materials, he said. Tree limbs must be cut into four-foot lengths.

The storm snapped power lines to the sewage treatment plant at Hydraulic and 52nd Street South. The plant was without power for about an hour, Carrier said.

Substantial tree damage was also reported at the Wichita Wild park next to 47th Street South and Meridian.

Check for updates.

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