Weather officials: Be ready for severe weather this fall

After being in hibernation the past few years thanks to the drought, weather officials say, Second Season could awaken around Kansas this fall.

Second Season is the name given to the small spike in tornadoes that happens most autumns somewhere in the U.S.

“The indications are the latter half of September and October will be wetter than average” in Kansas, said Mike Smith, senior vice president for AccuWeather. “That’s where we get our severe weather.”

Tornadoes have touched down every month of the year in Kansas.

In fact, tornadoes touched down in Sedgwick County nine times from September to November since 1950, most recently on Sept. 15, 2010.

Among those was an F2 tornado that hit Wichita on Sept. 5, 1992 — the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.

The city was hit hardest in an area bounded by Webb Road on the east, Central on the north, Bluff on the west and Harry on the south. Two people were hurt and damage estimates exceeded $10 million.

On Sept. 3, 1965, an F3 tornado injured 27 people in Sedgwick County. An F2 twister on Oct. 11, 1973, injured 15.

“We can get tornado outbreaks in the fall, but they’re less frequent,” said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

One of the largest tornado outbreaks in Kansas history came during Second Season: Oct. 26, 2006, when 28 tornadoes touched down. That’s good for sixth place on the list, tying May 29, 2004.

State climatologist Mary Knapp said there have been 96 tornadoes since 1996 from September to December, with only three years in that span not recording tornadoes during Second Season.

Not surprisingly, given the Oct. 26 outbreak, 2006 logged the most tornadoes during Second Season during the past 16 years: 39.

It’s been a quiet year for tornadoes in both Kansas and the nation so far, state and officials say, but that’s no indicator of what Second Season may bring.

Of the 100 tornadoes that touched down in Kansas in 2006, 39 of them came during Second Season.

But of the 208 tornadoes that touched down in the incredibly active 2008 in Kansas, Knapp said, only eight came during Second Season.

And just one tornado formed in Second Season last year, when a dome of high pressure deflected storms and the accompanying precipitation for essentially the last eight months of the year.

Given Second Season’s persistence over the years, however, officials say now is a good time to review the best ways to seek shelter from tornadoes.

The ideal place to take cover is underground, under a heavy table or work bench or under a stairwell, Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Randy Duncan said in an e-mail response to questions.

If a place underground isn’t available, he said, the next best location to seek shelter would be on the lowest level of a structure. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible.

Those in a mobile home should be prepared to leave early and seek shelter in a sturdily built structure, he said. People in an automobile who do not have four clear directions to drive away from the tornado should be prepared to abandon their vehicle and seek shelter in a ditch, ravine, culvert or other low-lying area.

The key is getting below the level of flying debris, Duncan said, which is the primary way people get hurt or killed in tornadoes.

Forecast models suggest a “northwest flow” pattern may set up over the Great Plains later this fall again, forecasters say. While that opens the door for persistent showers and thunderstorms, Carbin said, it is not conducive to the formation of tornadoes.

The reason, he said, is that winds in the upper atmosphere aren’t strong enough to help create the instability that tornadoes need to form.

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