Weather officials: Large hail, tornadoes possible in Wichita area Wednesday

Wichita and the surrounding area are in a bull’s-eye for potential severe weather late Wednesday afternoon and evening, officials say.

That could include large hail – as big as baseballs – and even an isolated tornado or two. If tornadoes form, forecasters say, they could be large and long-lived.

“This is our first really big chance for tornadoes in the Wichita area” this spring, Mike Smith, a senior vice president for AccuWeather, said Tuesday.

Forecast models indicate storms will fire up west of Wichita somewhere along a line stretching from Lyons south into Oklahoma. The storms will then move east-northeast, said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Sedgwick, Sumner, Cowley, Harper and Kingman counties are particularly at risk for large hail and an isolated tornado, Hayes said.

Cody Charvat, training and exercise officer for Sedgwick County Emergency Management, told the Sedgwick County Commission during a staff meeting Tuesday that an outdoor warning signal in Goddard was lost in Friday’s windstorm and needs to be replaced.

Power failures were reported at 40 others immediately after the storm, he said, and two remained offline as of Tuesday.

Wednesday’s severe weather will come with “an extra degree of danger” because the likelihood of high-precipitation supercells means tornadoes would be hidden by falling rain, Charvat said.

“Think Joplin. That was part of the problem there,” he told commissioners and staff members. “Folks didn’t see the tornado coming, so they didn’t really recognize the threat as it approached their city.”

The Storm Prediction Center has posted an “enhanced” risk for most of the eastern half of Kansas, a large chunk of Missouri and portions of Oklahoma and Illinois for Wednesday.

“Severe storms accompanied by the risk for large hail, damaging wind gusts and a few tornadoes are expected” in the central Plains and lower Missouri Valley on Wednesday afternoon and evening, an SPC outlook on the storm threat said.

Hayes said he expects the SPC to upgrade the risk to moderate by Wednesday.

Families and businesses alike should review their tornado precautions, put fresh batteries in flashlights and weather radios and think about where they and their children will be late Wednesday afternoon in the event they must seek shelter on short notice, Smith said.

“It’s good practice even if not much happens” on Wednesday, he said.

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

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