Meteorologists from the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Wichita presented engaging and entertaining facts about weather to a crowd of storm spotters and weather enthusiasts at Santa Fe Middle School's Lindley Hall on Thursday night. Their presentation was entitled "Storm Fury on the Plains."
Meteorologist Andy Kleinsasser and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Chance Hayes from NWS collaboratively provided an in-depth weather presentation, interacting with audience members and teaching them about the different types of storms, individual features that can help a spotter recognize potential storm severity, how to report hazardous weather and severe weather safety.
A large crowd turned out for the presentation, which lasted just over two hours.
Opening the presentation, Kleinsasser addressed many different topics, including, but not limited to, the need for both weather spotters and individuals (in general) to be weather savvy, tornado frequencies, effective weather reporting tips, the importance of eyes-on-the-ground spotter reporting in guiding emergency management decisions, how to understand the direction of dangerous storms (to stay out of their way), how to understand or measure the severity of storms, and the different forms and structures of storms.
Kleinsasser said a common misconception is that, when it comes to dangerous weather, people are mostly hurt or killed by tornados.
Flash floods are more frequent than tornados, Kleinsasser said, and more often the cause of most weather-related injuries and unnecessary deaths throughout the state.
A humorous video of cars trying to navigate flooding in England – depicting a number of cars failing to successfully navigate flooded roadways (as well as a herd of cattle jumping through the floodwater) – worked to further illustrate Kleinsasser's call to not "follow the herd," but to instead "turn back" and not attempt driving through rising flood waters.
At various points, Kleinsasser (and later, Hayes) allowed the many event participants to connect to their presentation equipment via their smart phones.
Once connected, participants from the crowd – both newer weather enthusiasts and seasoned weather veterans – were able to answer weather-related questions asked by the presenters, which were tallied live and used in the conversation.
After a short intermission, where participants were able to stretch and enjoy some quick refreshments, Hayes took over, leading his half of the presentation.
Hayes' many topics included, but were not limited to, the importance of paying attention to emergency alerts, the likelihood that storms will strike without warning and preventative measures, how understanding storms can and should influence both storm spotting and general travel safety, avoiding jumping to quick or uninformed conclusions about whether a storm is severe, how spotters can use radar to understand storms and position themselves, smart phone tools that can simplify understanding storms, additional types of storms and their features, the danger of storms that unfold in the pitch dark and the danger of lightning – beyond what it actually strikes.
In addition to information he presented, Hayes offered participants additional survey quiz questions, admitting, at times, that he was intentionally challenging participants by showing them photos of "scary clouds" that only looked like tornados.
Among many other useful facts for both spotters and weather enthusiasts, Hayes pointed out that the darkness of storm systems have no bearing on whether or not they are dangerous. All a storm's darkness signifies, according to Hayes, is that it potentially contains a lot of rain.
Hayes also said that there are only about 100 tornados in Kansas annually. At a much higher frequency, individuals calling the weather service merely think they are seeing a developing tornado.
Having gone over the mechanics of how a tornado-producing storm works and would move, Hayes said most of these individuals are actually just seeing "scary clouds" and reporting them as tornados.
Storm spotters play an important role in being first-hand reporters for severe weather, and providing information weather experts use to keep the public informed and safe.
Concluding, Hayes thanked the audience for coming to learn from the presentation, after which he left storm spotters with a few compliments and a final piece of advice:
"Remember to report what you see," Hayes said, "and not what you think you see."