Saturday, June 19, 2010

20 Years - Seems Like Yesterday

On this date and at about this time 20 years ago, a massive windstorm was gathering over south-central Kansas.  Later called the "inland hurricane", the system caused widespread damage from near Pratt, Kansas through the greater Wichita area, into the southeast part of the state.  Winds were measured at near 120 mph near Kingman, which spread East into the Wichita area.

It wasn't really a hurricane, obviously, but a strong bow echo/derecho type system that traversed southern Kansas on that very hot, unstable day.  Damage was widespread, over $70 million in total.  Some folks were without power for over a week after the event.

Damaging, straight-line windstorms such as that one don't get the "glory" that tornado events do.  For some reason it's much more glamorous to be hit by a tornado than a straight-line wind event, I guess.  I'll never forget that day, personally.  I remember opening the roof hatch on the 2nd floor of KAKE-TV (where I worked at the time), sticking my head out to discover a massive wall of dust advancing toward the city from the West.  It was truly unbelievable.  I had no idea at the time the amount of damage that was about to be done to the city.  You see, even though the "top of the line" new radar technology at the time was the WSR-88D (NEXRAD), it wasn't until 2 full years after the "inland hurricane" that the technology was installed in Wichita (October 13, 1992, to be exact).  We could only rely upon ground-based reports from storm spotters to give us a "heads-up" on the wind speeds exhibited by the storm at that time.

Funny enough, some widespread wind damage has occurred during the last 24-48 hours, some 20 years later, almost to the day.  This type of activity is fueled by the extreme heat and instability present on a summer afternoon, so this should be little surprise.  Below is a map of the wind damage reports from yesterday:

This system was responsible for some widespread, significant wind damage in the Chicago Metro area yesterday afternoon as well:

While the event 20 years ago in Wichita did not cause any deaths (but over 30 injuries), there is no doubt that today's advanced radar and warning technology gave residents of Chicago a greater "heads-up" than we were able to give residents of Wichita in 1990.

For more information on bow echoes/derechos and other straight-line wind phenomena, go here for an excellent overview by Bob Johns, a true pioneer on the subject.  The image that will appear at the top of the screen when you go to that link looks much like what I saw on the roof of KAKE-TV that fateful day in 1990 (I wish we had digital cameras back then).

No comments: