Tornadoes Strike Southeast Kansas on May 4th (5/5/2003)

By: Paul Howerton

The tornado outbreak of the year begins in Southeast Kansas.

The first storm developed just before 3 PM along the Kansas-Oklahoma border, south of Sedan (Chautauqua County).

The first of 14 warnings issued by the Wichita National Weather Service Office, went out at 3:06 PM, for Chautauqua County. This storm split while moving across Montgomery County. The southern storm after the split, was the one which prompted the first tornado warning for Labette and Neosho counties at 4:10 PM. See image 1 for the reflectivity and image 2 for doppler velocity data at 4:17 PM. The first tornado was reported at 4:18 PM, 6 miles west of Parsons. Minor tree damage was reported in that area. The F0 tornado then crossed into Neosho County around 4:30 PM, about 5 miles northeast of Parsons. It continued northeast and hit the area about 6 miles south of St. Paul, around 4:37 PM (image 3). Trees and power lines were down and minor structural damage was reported. A visible satellite picture (image 4) at 4:40 PM shows the intense updrafts associated with the storm. This storm intensified while moving across Crawford County, and later struck Girard.

The second tornadic storm developed in Osage County, Oklahoma around 3:30 PM. The storm intensified after crossing into Kansas, near Coffeyville (Montgomery County). It then turned to the right, tracking east along the state line. The storm prompted the second tornado warning at 5:13 PM for Labette County. Image 5 shows the reflectivity data and image 6 for doppler velocity data at 5:16 PM. A storm survey indicated the damage began about 3 miles south and 4.5 miles west of Bartlett, Kansas. See image 7 for a map of the tornado path. It intensified to F1 just southwest of Bartlett. Image 8 shows damage to a house 1.5 miles southwest of Bartlett. Image 9 shows house damage and trees down one half mile east of Bartlett. Extensive tree damage was reported in this area.

Conditions were primed for severe weather on Sunday afternoon. Moisture had streamed northward into the region from the Gulf of Mexico Saturday night. The 4 PM surface map (image 10) shows the plume of moisture into Southeast Kansas. A surface low was located along the Kansas-Nebraska border, northwest of Concordia. Strong winds aloft, in excess of 135 mph, were responsible for the fast movement of the storms.

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