This is the kind of day that makes Tornado Alley shudder.
A major tornado outbreak is expected through much of Oklahoma and southcentral Kansas – including the Wichita area.
The Storm Prediction Center has posted a large high risk area covering most of western Oklahoma and southcentral Kansas from western Sedgwick County west to Kiowa County. A moderate risk covers most of the rest of central and northern Kansas, including Wichita.
Among the Kansas towns in the high risk are Kingman, Medicine Lodge, Ashland, Pratt – and Greensburg, which was decimated by massive tornado just two years ago.
The SPC is projecting a 30% chance of a tornado within 25 miles of any point within the high risk zone, and a 15% chance of any point in the moderate zone – which includes Wichita, Hutchinson, McPherson, Salina, Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence.
Those percentages may seem low, but historically speaking they’re huge for tornadoes, which are rare and need just the right conditions to form anyway.
The tornado threat will extend far past sunset tonight, forecasters warn.
This date is already cemented in Kansas tornado history. A large, long-lasting tornado hammered Haysville, Wichita, McConnell Air Force Base and Andover on April 26, 1991. It was one of 55 tornadoes that touched down that day in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The “Andover tornado” reached EF5 on the Fujita Scale, possessed a track 45 miles long and grew to nearly a half-mile wide. It killed 17, injured 225 and caused an estimated $300 million damage – $62 million at McConnell Air Force Base.
Of the 17 deaths, 13 occurred at the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park in Andover.
A second tornado in northcentral Oklahoma that day may well have been even strong than the Haysville-Wichita-Andover tornado. Known as the Red Rock Tornado, it stayed on the ground for 66 miles and grew to nearly a mile wide.
The tornado leveled two farms and scoured pavement off a highway. A portable Doppler radar measured winds of between 257 and 268 MPH winds inside the vortex.