Tornadoes Hit Harper County for the Second Time in Less Than 3 Weeks (5/31/2004)

By: Paul Howerton

Tornadoes, wind and hail bring a rocky start to Memorial Day weekend 2004.

Unlike the tornadoes of May 12th, these storms continued to move east, saving the strongest tornado of the night for Sumner county. Based on the damage survey, at least 9 tornadoes occurred, including two F3's (Image 9) (Image 10) (Image 12) and one F2. (Image 11) Video and eyewitness accounts may add some additional brief touchdowns to that count.

The first tornado warning was issued for Harper county at 704 PM and was extended at 753 PM. The first reported touchdown was around 718 PM, west of Anthony. (See image 1 for a map of all the tornado tracks and F-scale ratings.) Three more tornadoes would touch down in Harper county before the night was over. The second brief touchdown occurred just northwest of Harper. The third one started just northeast of Anthony and was on the ground for 6 miles. See image 2 for a picture of this tornado. Radar signatures (image 3 and image 4) at this point were also quite impressive. This was the strongest tornado in Harper county, and was rated F2. It lifted northwest of Freeport, but another tornado developed northeast of Freeport, and crossed into Sumner County west of Argonia. Radar showed an impressive "hook echo" (image 5) at this time.

The first Sumner County warning went out at 800 PM, and it was extended at 853 PM. Tornadoes sometimes develop in cycles as the supercell undergoes periods of strengthening and weakening. This storm was no exception. The next tornado occurred 6 miles later, and was the first of three to that touched down near Conway Springs. Radar images (image 6, image 7) of the storm near Conway Springs remained impressive. The first two of these were rated F3, but were only on the ground for 2.5 and 1.5 miles respectively. The last tornado which occurred east of Conway Springs was an F1. In addition to the tornadoes, the storm produced 80 mph winds at Belle Plaine and 2.5 inch hail near Conway Springs and Viola.

The large supercell thunderstorm which produced these tornadoes then drifted toward the northern Sumner county border, prompting a tornado warning for Sedgwick county at 936 PM. The storm weakened, but continued to drop golf ball sized hail near Mulvane around 930 PM.

Forecasters saw preliminary indications that the weekend could be quite stormy much earlier in the week. The Tuesday afternoon Hazardous Weather Outlook mentioned "THERE IS A POTENTIAL FOR SIGNIFICANT SEVERE WEATHER LATE SATURDAY AFTERNOON OR MORE LIKELY SATURDAY EVENING." The early Thursday morning Hazardous Weather Outlook included "...CONDITIONS WILL BE FAVORABLE FOR AT LEAST ISOLATED TORNADOES OVER CENTRAL AND SOUTH CENTRAL KANSAS SATURDAY LATE AFTERNOON AND EVENING, ALONG WITH VERY LARGE HAIL AND DAMAGING STRAIGHT LINE WINDS." The pattern the forecasters anticipated was very close to what actually occurred. A strong system moved out of the desert southwest, and interacted with abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Storms developed near the dryline Saturday afternoon and continued after sunset. See image 8 for a satellite image and more technical discussion of weather parameters.

Here are more damage pictures from the F3 tornado that hit the Conway Springs vicinity. Image 13 Image 14 Image 15 Image 16 Image 17 Image 18

This story was brought to you by the National Weather Service - Wichita, Kansas. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.