Hail, rain, snow and wind marked eventful ’09

According to the National Weather Service, Wichita recorded 37.24 inches of rainfall in 2009, 7.44 inches above normal.
According to the National Weather Service, Wichita recorded 37.24 inches of rainfall in 2009, 7.44 inches above normal. File photo

Ask most Wichitans what they remember about the weather in 2009, and you'd probably get a blank look.

Oh, they might mention the cool October and how cold the first half of December seems to have been, but chances are they'd tell you this year's weather was pretty unremarkable.

And they'd be wrong.

"It doesn't seem like it was a busy year" for severe weather, "but in all reality it was," said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Wichita.

Through the end of September, Kansas had recorded 103 tornadoes — second only to Texas at 113, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Nearly half of those — 48 — were reported in the 26-county warning area handled by the Wichita office.

But Hayes said he would understand if most people said they couldn't remember any of them.

The strongest of the bunch caused damage to a home near Lake Afton in early April, and nearly all of the twisters were weak and short-lived. Six injuries and no deaths resulted from tornadoes in Kansas this year.

"It was actually a pretty active year — just not from a tornado standpoint," Hayes said. "Folks have a tendency to think of a busy weather year only in terms of tornadoes and tornado damage.

"They don't remember the 20-inch snowfalls in Kingman and Reno County in March after the 11 tornadoes we had in the area," he said. "They forget we had our second-wettest April on record."

Only 1944 was rainier in April, he said.

Unless they were in the path of the storms, he said, they may not remember the derecho, or wind storm, that battered Towanda and El Dorado with hurricane-force winds in early May or the hail storm that hit parts of Wichita in July.

The derecho in May, which had straight-line winds of more than 100 miles an hour, killed a 54-year-old woman in Wilson County and continued all the way through Missouri and into Kentucky before falling apart.

One of the costliest storms to hit Wichita in years struck the evening of July 8, when huge hail battered downtown Wichita and the Delano neighborhood west of the Arkansas River.

The hail knocked out windshields in vehicles at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, shattered windows and destroyed hundreds of roofs. Damage estimates topped $2.6 million.

"I was teaching a class in meteorology at Friends the night of the hailstorm, and I dismissed class early and told them to go home because I didn't want them to drive in dangerous conditions or have their cars dented!" WeatherData CEO Mike Smith said in an e-mail.

The temperature hit 100 three times in the week following the hail storm — including 107 on July 14 — but Wichita touched the century mark only four times all year.

August was remarkably cool and tranquil, wrapping up with crisp nights more consistent with mid-autumn than the dog days of summer.

Those cool nights and abundant moisture through much of the year set the stage for what American Red Cross spokesman James Williams called "a once-in-a-lifetime fall."

Wichita's trees were bursting with vibrant color through much of September and October — though October went down as the second-coolest in the city's history.

November offered an extended Indian summer, before a cold December brought down the curtain.

Though December brought no measurable snows to the city, a strong winter storm blanketed much of the rest of the state.

As much as 15 inches fell in northern Kansas — or about half the total for parts of Pratt and Reno counties on the last weekend of March.

The 30 inches that fell on March 27 and 28 in Pratt set a record for the heaviest snow over a 24-hour period in the state's history.

Valley Center storm chasers Brandon Ivey and Matt Hughes documented that record-setting blizzard, getting stuck along the way.

"It was pretty eerie driving through rural areas in white-out conditions," Hughes said via e-mail. "There were very few vehicles on the road and at times we could not even see anything but our own vehicle. Not even the road could be seen."

Thanks to that snowstorm, the derecho in Butler County and the hail storm in July, Hayes said, 2009 can stand with almost any recent year when it comes to severe weather.

"It's been a hectic year," Hayes said. "We had a lot of water, a lot of snow, and a lot of tornadoes — just not a lot of damage from the tornadoes."

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