August is normally a time of year when heat waves are the talk of the town and the air is so still Kansans are pleading for the breezes that frequently make them hotter.
But this August has seen tornadoes and cool fronts so strong that it feels like mid-September, not the dog days of summer.
It has been enough to hint that the slight increase in tornadoes as the seasons change – commonly called Second Season – may be arriving earlier than normal.
“I can’t say emphatically ‘yes,’ though it does point toward that potential,” said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita.
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Typically, Second Season arrives in Kansas in mid-September and lasts until the end of October. But last year, a tornado outbreak 10 days before Thanksgiving featured the strongest tornadoes of the year.
The Second Season occurs as warm, moist air collides with colder air as the seasons change – echoing what happens in the spring, though not with the same frequency.
Weather officials elsewhere aren’t buying August’s atypical behavior as a sign of Second Season’s arrival.
“I'm not quite ready to say we've begun the ‘second season’ quite yet,” Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations for the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said in an e-mail response to questions.
“However, with periods of stronger flow aloft over parts of the central and northern U.S. over the next 10 days and some potential tropical systems, we probably have not seen the last of at least some tornado threat across the U.S. in the short term.”
More than 40 tornadoes were reported in Ohio and Indiana on Wednesday in what is likely to go down as one of the largest August outbreaks in the nation since 1950. That number will likely shrink as meteorologists review reports and damage paths and discover some of the total is multiple reports of the same tornado.
National Weather Service survey teams had confirmed 18 tornadoes as of Friday, though that number is likely to increase as more damage surveys are conducted.
The record for most tornadoes on one August day is 40, which occurred when Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005, according to data provided by Ian Livingston, co-founder of ustornadoes.com and a member of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.
In fact, the top four tornado days in August are all associated with hurricanes, according to Livingston’s list.
One tornado was reported in Kansas on Tuesday from the same system before it moved north and east into Indiana and Ohio.
“It just shows you that, as long as the ingredients are there, you can get” tornadoes, said Robb Lawson, a meteorologist with Wichita’s weather service branch. “It doesn’t know any time, really.”
Larry Ruthi, meteorologist-in-charge at the Dodge City branch of the weather service, said forecast models indicate a high-pressure ridge will build back up over the southern U.S. in the final days of August, meaning “a more typical late summer pattern will return.”