CHAPMAN – Severe weather spawning numerous tornadoes roiled large stretches of Kansas for a third day Thursday, prompting residents to anxiously watch the skies but causing only scattered damage in rural areas and no injuries or deaths.
A late-afternoon tornado warning in the Kansas City area prompted a brief precautionary evacuation of Kansas City International Airport in Missouri, forcing travelers and other visitors into parking garage tunnels, local media reported.
The area was on high alert a day after a half-mile-wide tornado stayed on the ground for about 90 minutes near Chapman on Wednesday night and traveled 26 miles.
The National Weather Service began issuing tornado warnings early Thursday afternoon, with the first sighting of a tornado near the tiny northeast Kansas town of St. George in Riley County at about 2 p.m.
An hour later, five tornadoes were reported in a cluster of counties in northeast Kansas, where law enforcement reported baseball-size hail that damaged cars and homes in Meriden, northeast of Topeka.
At the same time, several southwestern Kansas counties were under tornado warnings, but no twisters had touched down.
The tornado near 1,400-resident Chapman, 140 miles west of Kansas City, Kansas, damaged or destroyed about 20 homes but edged past Chapman’s southern side after forecasters declared a “tornado emergency” for the town. “Numerous” miles of power lines were extensively damaged, along with a set of railroad tracks, Kansas officials said Thursday.
A survey team from the National Weather Service office at Topeka rated the tornado as an EF-4 on a scale of tornado strength – EF-5 is the highest – with estimated peak winds of 180 mph.
In Dickinson County, a tornado Wednesday was blamed for destroying eight homes and heavily damaging as many as 20 others and farmsteads.
“It’s amazing how this tornado missed those centers of population,” said Paul Froelich, a Dickinson County fire district chief. “And we had outstanding early warning on this. … People knew well in advance of this storm. Consider also, this is Kansas. This is Tornado Alley.”
A typical tornado dissipates within 10 minutes after losing the proper balance of winds flowing into and out of the storm. Tornado researcher Erik Rasmussen of the University of Oklahoma said Thursday that conditions were right to keep the Chapman storm churning – no storms were nearby to disrupt it.
A twister at Chapman June 11, 2008, tore a path of destruction six blocks wide. Officials said one woman died, 100 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged, and 80 percent of the town was damaged.