Severe weather week coming up

Chad Frey
The Kansan
During the floods of 2019, Harvey County West Park was flooded out.

National Severe Weather Week has arrived — fresh on the heels of record cold temperatures that created disaster declarations in multiple counties and states. 

It's not the kind of disaster that most think of when it comes to weather — the more obvious thoughts are tornadoes and floods. 

The most recent flooding in the area came in 2019 — a period of rainfall in May led to flooding that "teetered on catastrophic" according to Gary Denny, director of emergency management for Harvey County. 

A month of rain storms led nearly 50 counties in Kansas to pass disaster declarations, and the governor to follow suit. 

Those days will be part of the focus of Severe Weather Awareness Week from March 1-5 in Kansas. The week emphasizes community awareness on the hazards of tornadoes, lightning, hail and wind and flooding, as well as preparedness, including identifying shelter and having multiple ways to receive weather alerts.

Those things will be highlighted on the Harvey County website during the week. There will be a statewide tornado drill as well during a week that will be mostly hosted online due to COVID-19. 

Focusing on flood, for at least one day, is on the docket. 

Over the past 30 years, an average of 88 people in the United States die in floods each year, according to the NWS. Eleven Kansans died from floods from 2010 to 2020.

“Before flooding begins, know your low-water crossings or flood-prone locations, and avoid those areas when flood warnings are issued or heavy rainfall rates begin,” said Janet Salazar, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Wichita.

The NWS’ analysis and data collection continues in the hours and days following a disaster.

Salazar surveys flood damage and gathers flood-impact reports from emergency managers, road maintenance employees and the public to improve local preparation for future severe-weather events.

“Any new flood impacts are then placed into future river flood warnings to help the public and officials to plan ahead,” Salazar said. “Knowing when the river gets to a certain stage level, or when the river breaks flood stage, moderate stage or major flood levels, will certainly help them with their flood mitigation decisions.”

The NWS and local first responders are in continuous contact prior to and during severe weather developments. Salazar provides briefings to officials on expected river crests and impacts to the community, including a range of potential scenarios. Each forecast update provides new, pertinent information as future rainfall estimates increase or decrease.

“Even the location of where the heaviest rain fell within the basin makes a difference in the timing of river crest,” Salazar said. “Other considerations are soil moisture and antecedent conditions."

Flood information can be found on the Watches, Warnings & Advisories Map at www.weather.gov/wichita.