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Central U.S. faces several rounds of severe weather. Floods, hail, tornadoes possible

Aerial views of the widespread flooding in south-central Kansas

Drone video of floodwaters in Sumner, Cowley and Butler counties. (May 8, 2019)
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Drone video of floodwaters in Sumner, Cowley and Butler counties. (May 8, 2019)

Faced with what’s being called an “unprecedented” outlook for severe weather across much of the nation’s mid-section over the next week, authorities are urging residents of more than a dozen states – including Kansas – to prepare themselves.

For residents of the soggy Sunflower State, that doesn’t just translate into making sure there’s a good place to seek shelter, it means making sure sump pumps are in good working order.

“Tornado Alley is about to wake up,” AccuWeather extreme meteorologist Reed Timmer said in a statement released by the private forecasting agency.

For the first time since the federal Storm Prediction Center began producing outlooks in 2007, severe weather was a threat for five consecutive days in the long-range projections.

The storms are expected to impact 18 states and threaten 800,000 square miles.

Kansans should be ready for a wide range of severe weather, from tornadoes to hail to heavy rains, said Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist for the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

“Everything is in place” for significant severe weather events, Marsh said. “Where the storms will actually end up being is uncertain at this point.”

Expect storm chasers and weather researchers to crisscross Kansas over the next several days as they hover near a dry line that will form near the Colorado border and then move eastward before backtracking again next week.

“I don’t anticipate it to be Armageddon” in terms of tornadoes, AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rossio said. “The even greater threat is going to be the potential flash flooding.”

Friday could see isolated thunderstorms form near the Colorado border and then move east, National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Finch said. They would have the potential to develop tornadoes.

Forecasters in the Wichita area urged residents to review their shelter plans and pay close attention to forecasts for the next several days. That’s key, Marsh said, because what happens one day will impact what’s possible the next day.

Even something as seemingly insignificant as light morning showers could make a big difference in what the atmosphere produces later in the day, Marsh said.

“It definitely looks like we have potential for several rounds of severe weather,” said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service. “The parameters are in place…as far as your high-end, doom and gloom, long-track tornado threat, it’s not looking as favorable as it was a few days ago.”

The severe weather threat will be in western Kansas on Friday before shifting east on Saturday, forecasters say. After a lull across Kansas on Sunday – “Sunday’s going to be a beautiful day,” Rossio said - more severe weather is possible Monday and Tuesday and then later in the week as well.

Storm chasers are converging on Kansas and Oklahoma, though the threat will stretch from Texas to Nebraska and eventually involve states east of Tornado Alley.

Current forecasts presented by computer models indicate the highest tornado threats will be in Oklahoma, Rossio said, but if the center of the low pressure system shifts a little bit to the north Wichita “certainly could be in a prime location for potential severe weather.”

Risk of floods

Even if few tornadoes ultimately develop across Kansas, Marsh and other officials say, the storms will be potent.

“These storms are going to be prolific rain makers,” Marsh said. “We’re going to have a lot of moisture to work with” in generating storms.

Some projections state northwest Oklahoma could see 8 to 12 inches of rain over the course of the week – similar to what occurred near Wichita earlier this month, triggering widespread flooding.

“I saw animals lining up two by two this morning,” Marsh said.

The flooding threat has the attention of local emergency managers. Thunderstorms that develop over the next week could deliver an inch or two of rain quickly, forecasters say.

“It’s the flooding that concerns me more than the other stuff,” Butler County Emergency Management director Keri Korthals said.

Roads, streets and homes were flooded earlier this month across much of the county, including Rose Hill, Augusta and Douglas.

“They’re still trying to dry out,” Korthals said.

A number of roads around Butler County are still inaccessible because of flood damage.

“For flooding to go and wash those out again is absolutely not what we need,” she said.

While water levels in the metropolitan area have receded significantly over the past few days, “it won’t take much for those rivers and creeks to come right back up,” said Cody Charvat, emergency management director for Sedgwick County. “If we do get hit with several rounds of rain over several days – especially if it comes down quickly - the flooding is going to be significant.”

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