Tornadoes of 2017
Editor's note: The National Weather Service does not have apps to provide forecasts and weather alerts. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.
He was driving north on U.S. 77 in Cowley County last spring, toward a rapidly strengthening thunderstorm.
As he reached Strother Field between Winfield and Arkansas City, the man drove “right into the storm,” said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service.
“It turned out to be a tornado,” Hayes said. “Fortunately, it was weak. But it shuffled his vehicle around quite a bit.”
The experience convinced the man to have a radar app on his smartphone, Hayes said, so he can spot trouble before he drives into it.
Weather officials want other Kansans to do the same thing. It’s a point of emphasis as Kansas observes Severe Weather Awareness Week this week.
The statewide tornado drill is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday. The week is designed to remind Kansans to prepare for the possibility of tornadoes and other severe weather.
“We want them utilizing mobile devices along with their eyes to keep them out of harm’s way,” Hayes said.
In his severe weather safety presentations this spring, Hayes said, he has been stressing that people should know where they are in relation to a storm — especially when traveling.
“Don’t let the blue dot (showing your location) move into the red” of a storm, Hayes said.
On radar, the red area of the storm is the most violent, featuring the strongest winds and a higher likelihood of hail. Heavy rain is possible near the red zones as well.
Tornadoes can form on the back end of thunderstorms and can be shrouded by rain — or “rain-wrapped” — so they can be difficult to see. That’s just one reason weather officials don’t want motorists to drive into strong storms.
By using a radar app, travelers can find alternate routes to avoid strong storms — or simply wait out the worst of it until resuming their trip.
National Weather Service meteorologists are not allowed to make recommendations as to which phone apps to use, Hayes said.
Storm chasers in the Wichita area use a variety of apps to track the weather: RadarScope, AccuWeather, Storm Mapping Pro, WeatherBug, Pykl3 and others. Not all of those will send out alerts, however.
But what meteorologists like to use may not be a good guide for what the general public should use, chasers and forecasters said.
“What is on the meteorologists’ phones could be very different than what the general public needs to be using or could understand,” Guy Pearson, director of weather warning services for AccuWeather, said in an e-mail response to questions.
People wanting simpler apps may want to give Raindar or MyRadar a look, chasers said. The key is finding something they’re comfortable with that will let them know where they are in relation to storms.
The apps are an important way to get severe weather information, Hayes said, but they’re not the only way. Weather radios, wireless emergency alerts and the Internet can all provide information.
Tornado sirens are intended to alert those outside and shouldn’t be relied on for those indoors, Hayes and other weather officials say.
Kansas recorded 60 tornadoes last year, two less than the annual average since 1950 but more than 30 below the 30-year average of 95. There were just two injuries and no deaths caused by tornadoes last year.
For those not traveling, Hayes said, the best steps to protect themselves in the event of a tornado are the same as they have been for years:
▪ Go to the lowest level of a structure
▪ Get under something sturdy
▪ Cover your head
▪ Keep in place until the all clear has been sounded
Weather apps recommended by storm chasers
Pykl3: Google Play
Raindar: Google Play
Storm Mapping Pro: Google Play
Statewide Tornado Drill
Tuesday, March 6