Weather teased, but tornadoes were few in Kansas in 2014

A tornado can be seen forming just south of McPherson.
A tornado can be seen forming just south of McPherson. File photo

It was a quiet year for tornadoes in the Wichita area.

In fact, it couldn’t have been any quieter.

Not only were there no tornadoes spotted in Sedgwick County in 2014, there weren’t even any tornado watches issued.

None. Zero. Nada.

“That’s never happened before,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Ketcham said.

At least not in the nearly half a century since the agency began keeping statistics on tornado watches and warnings. There were only two tornado watches issued in Sedgwick County in all of 2013, making it the quietest two-year period for watches since data began being collected in 1970.

There were only 40 tornadoes in Kansas this year, the lowest total for the Sunflower State since 1989 and the fourth-lowest total since tornado statistics began being kept in 1950. That’s less than half of the 30-year average of 81.

It’s the third straight year of sharply below-normal tornado totals in Kansas. That’s a mixed blessing, weather officials say.

While the low numbers mean fewer opportunities for deaths, injuries and substantial property damage, they say, it also increases the chances of complacency setting in.

“If you don’t have them very often, they forget what to do,” Ketcham said of residents.

It’s easy to get people’s attention in the wake of an EF5 tornado like the ones that hit Andover, Hesston or Greensburg, he said. But the last time it was this quiet for tornadoes in Kansas – in the late 1980s – experts were wondering whether Tornado Alley was becoming extinct.

No one wonders that now, particularly after 2011 set so many tornado records. But Ketcham said it means weather officials will be working hard this spring to help residents take severe weather safety preparation seriously.

Tornadoes – or the lack of them, at least – weren’t the only way 2014’s weather turned heads. In some ways, Mother Nature seemed to tease Kansans over the past calendar year.

Wichita has never been so hot so early and Goodland so cold so early as they were in 2014. Wichita hit 102 on May 4, the earliest 100-degree day in the city’s history.

When the temperature dropped to 6 degrees below zero on Nov. 13 in Goodland, it broke two records: the low temperature for the date and the lowest temperature that early in the winter.

People wondered aloud whether that early 102 in Wichita was a sign of things to come later in the summer, Ketcham said.

It wasn’t. There were only seven days of 100-degree weather in Wichita in 2014, or about half the normal total.

A two-week stretch of frigid weather in early November had many wondering whether the Sunflower State was in for a brutal winter. But temperatures moderated later in the month, and December has been milder than average.

Wichita already has logged more than 4 inches of snow, most of which came down in large, moisture-laden flakes the week before Christmas.

“We’re getting some good precipitation in December,” something that doesn’t normally happen, Ketcham said.

Conditions were so mild earlier in the month, in fact, that a tornado touched down in Harper County on Dec. 14.

“That’s a pretty rare event,” Ketcham said of a December tornado in Kansas.

But it’s also a reminder that tornadoes can form any time of year in Tornado Alley.

“Just because it’s not ‘the season,’ they still need to be aware on days when conditions are right,” Ketcham said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.