A Wild Evening of Weather Rocks Central Kansas, Monday August 12th (8/13/2002)

By: Hayden Frank

Strong damaging winds, along with large hail and flooding payed a visit to Central Kansas.

An unusually strong August cold front, pushed southeast into Northwest Kansas during the late morning hours of August 12, 2002. The front continued to move slowly south into North Central Kansas during the afternoon hours. However, a layer of warm air around 10,000 feet prevented thunderstorm development. By the evening hours, surface temperatures had warmed to near 90, allowing the warm layer to be eroded. This allowed scattered thunderstorms to quickly develop and become severe after 600 pm.

The thunderstorms formed along and ahead of the strong cold front. Initially, there were three isolated thunderstorms affecting North Central Kansas. These storms were affecting Lincoln, Rice, and Ellsworth Counties shortly after 7 pm (See Image 1). The storm over Lincoln County produced egg sized hail, while the one in Rice County had 60 mph winds along with dime size hail. The storm in Lincoln County weakened and tracked eastward. Meanwhile, the storms over Ellsworth and Rice Counties merged as they tracked southeastward. This became the storm of the night, and one of the worst storms to hit our county warning area this year.

Shortly before 8 pm, the storm now over Central Rice County began to rotate rapdily. You can see the velocity couplet in image 2. The dark red color represents winds blowing away from our radar, while the blue represents winds blowing toward the radar. When this strong rotation appeared on the radar, our forecasters decided to issue a tornado warning. Although the storm did not produce a confirmed tornado, spotters reported a very large wall cloud, along with occasional funnel clouds. See Image 3 for a picture of damage from this storm. The storm tracked southeastward into Reno County at around 9 pm. The hardest hit town was Nickerson, located in Northern Reno County. Spotters estimated that the winds gusted to 100 mph. Many trees were knocked down, some sheds were damaged or destroyed, and power was lost in the city. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. The worst damage occurred in South Hutchinson where 25 train box cars were blown over, three mobile homes were destroyed, several homes lost their roofs, and several large trees were snapped or knocked over. Images 4 through 10 of the damage in Nickerson and South Hutchinson are listed below.

This phenomena that caused the incredibly strong winds is called the Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD). The RFD can sometimes lead to rapid tornado development. Fortunately, in this case, the tornado did not develop.

The storm moved into Sedgwick County after 1030 pm. By then, the tornadic threat had diminished, but very strong straight line winds continued to be a problem. Many locations in the Wichita Metropolitan Area experienced winds up to 80 mph with the storms.

In addition to the severe weather, the thunderstorms dumped a tremendous amount of rain across Rice and Reno counties. This caused many roads to be closed, as some roads were completely impassable. The only good news of the night was that as the storms entered Southeast Kansas, they weakened considerably and caused no more severe weather.

Nickerson and South Hutchinson Damage Photos: Image 4, Image 5, Image 6, Image 7, Image 8, Image 9, Image 10.

This story was brought to you by the National Weather Service - Wichita, Kansas.

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