Wichita and many parts of south-central Kansas spent Friday cleaning up after a bow echo thunderstorm packing winds up to 100 mph roared through the area, leveling trees and power lines and damaging houses and businesses.
At least three people were injured when suspected microbursts obliterated mobile homes near Douglass and El Dorado, Butler County Emergency Management director Jim Schmidt said. Two people were taken to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita with potentially serious injuries.
Three more people, including a young child, were injured outside of Whitewater, Harvey County Emergency Management director Lon Buller said. They were also taken to Wesley Medical Center for treatment.
A number of people around Wichita sustained minor injuries from flying debris, police Lt. Joe Schroeder said, but none of the injuries were serious. Two people suffered minor injuries when the wind blew the roof off an EMS station at K-96 and Hillside.
“The damage that was done was isolated, but where it occurred it was significant,” said Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works for the city.
At one point Friday morning, more than 70,000 Westar Energy customers were without power, said Erin LaRow, a spokeswoman for the utility. That number had dropped to about 32,000 as of 5:30 p.m., including 21,000 in Sedgwick County.
“The damage was quite extensive,” LaRow said. “It’s been pretty widespread.”
Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita was closed for several hours due to storm debris on the airfield, but it reopened shortly after 1 p.m.
A large hangar with six airplanes inside at Jabara sustained “total collapse,” said Roger Xanders, chief of airport fire and police.
A damage survey conducted by the National Weather Service estimated winds at Jabara were “near 100” miles an hour, meteorologist Paul Howerton said.
“The storms did significant damage” within Jabara at 35th and Webb, Xanders said, but there was minimal damage at Eisenhower National Airport in west Wichita. Some fences and signs were blown down there along with some “very minor” damage to building exteriors.
The new terminal sustained minor damage, but “nothing that’s going to slow down the construction of that building,’ he said. “Eisenhower has not had any (flight) delays.”
Power poles were snapped off at the base in northeast Wichita, with multiple streets closed by downed poles or power lines. According to a news release from the city, forestry crews cleared more than 25 street blockages Friday, though no significant damage was reported at city parks.
A large portion of the roof at Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph was blown away in the storm, and crews worked throughout the day Friday to repair it, said Maria Loving, communications coordinator at Via Christi.
The roof at the hospital has two layers, so no moisture or debris reached the inside of the building, said Roz Hutchinson, communication and public relations director at Via Christi.
The top floor of the hospital is vacant, Hutchinson said, so most patients and staff were unaware the hospital had sustained damage.
“If you looked out the window and saw the debris you would have known, but most patients and staff didn’t have any idea,” Hutchinson said.
“There was no impact on patient care.”
Extensive damage was reported in and near Whitewater and Benton. A mobile home in the Sunset 77 mobile home park north of Douglass was destroyed, Schmidt said.
A 500-square-foot area of the park was leveled, he said, and yet mobile homes on the north side of the park were untouched.
A similar scene was found on Cole Creek about 4 miles south-southeast of El Dorado, Schmidt said. One mobile home was destroyed and another shifted off its foundation.
“When we pulled up there and they said they were treating one lady for cuts and bruises … I thought, ‘How in the world did they get out of there?’” Schmidt said.
Parts of Newton sustained significant damage, said Buller, the Harvey County Emergency Management director. Winds estimated at 80 to 90 mph blew through the area early Friday morning.
Several stores in a strip mall were damaged and the library lost its roof. Midway Motors sustained heavy damage to its roof, signs and the glass around the showroom. Windows were destroyed in more than a dozen cars in the outdoor lot.
Rural residents west of Newton report many utility poles snapped and heavy damage to irrigation systems. They’ve been told power may not return until as late as Wednesday.
Westar officials projected that power in Maize, Colwich and parts of northeast Wichita won’t be fully restored until Monday morning. Additional crews had been called in to assist Westar in its power restoration efforts, LaRow said.
Neighboring utility companies in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado are sending crews to assist with power restoration, LaRow said. In a tweet Friday afternoon, Westar said nearly 600 people will be working to restore power in Wichita.
“We are all hands on deck,” LaRow said. “We’re still assessing damage.”
As of mid-afternoon Friday, she said, 149 Westar utility poles were broken or blown over by the storm. Those are large poles, 55 feet or 90 feet in length.
“Unfortunately, that’s not a quick fix,” LaRow said.
Eight transmission lines are out of service as well.
Sedgwick County Electric Cooperative reported more than 40 utility poles had been broken across its coverage area in western Sedgwick County. Goddard reported an outdoor tornado siren was knocked out by the storm.
Bow echo storm
A bow echo thunderstorm is a line of storms that bends – or “bows” – in parts of the line due to the strong straight-line winds accompanying it. The winds are on the leading edge of the storm, which is why forecasters say “the worst is first, and then comes the rain” with bow echo thunderstorms.
Wind gusts of 60 mph on the leading edge of the storm were reported just after midnight in Colwich and gusts of 63 mph were reported in Goddard.
Pajor said Wichita was on the south end of a long line of thunderstorms that stretched north into Nebraska. The storms collapsed as they reached the Wichita area, which explains the microbursts reported across the area.
Winds of 89 mph were clocked at the Kansas Aviation Museum, with 74 registered at McConnell Air Force Base, said Jaclyn Ritzman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Hail as large as golf balls fell on the east side of the city.
Winds of 72 mph were reported in Butler County. As of 7 a.m., Schmidt said he had received preliminary reports of eight houses or buildings damaged and 16 reports of trees or power lines down.
“For a supposedly ‘low-end event,’ it sure wasn’t,” Schmidt said.
Classes were canceled for Wichita and Maize public schools because of the widespread outages.
Maize district spokeswoman Lori O’Toole Buselt said the city of Maize was without power Friday morning, as well as parts of the Fox Ridge subdivision.
The Maize district’s radios, phones and servers were all down, so the district was operating on emergency generators, Buselt said.
“Without those phones and servers, we have no way of communicating with our buildings,” she said. Maize teachers were not ordered to report to work.
Goddard schools were already scheduled to not hold classes due to an in-service day. Mulvane and Valley Center schools were also scheduled for an in-service day.
Andover students and teachers were scheduled to be off for a conference release day. Wichita Catholic schools were out for Good Friday.
Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias, Michael Pearce and Matt Riedl of The Eagle