Monthly Archives: January 2012

Snow plows clear way during December blizzard, save Kansas rancher’s life

The chest pains Chad Griffith had been having off and on for the past few weeks grew more intense as he and his wife were on their way home to their Scott County ranch from Christmas shopping in Garden City on Dec. 19, so he and his wife decided to go to the hospital in Scott City.

Griffith, 44, suffered a serious heart attack at the hospital, and doctors knew he needed life-saving surgery. But the closest hospital that could offer it was Hays Medical Center – and it was 120 miles away.

The snow storm hammering western and central Kansas had already shut down I-70 and grounded all flights – including planes or helicopters that could have flown Griffith to Hays.

Kansas Department of Transportation crews agreed to clear a path along K-96 west to U.S. 183, then north into Hays. Four snow plows each took a portion of the route, with the ambulance and family members following closely behind. Once Griffith’s condition had been stabilized, the caravan left Scott City at midnight. Visibility was so poor, the plows were unable to move much faster than 25 to 35 miles an hour.

In the 11 years he’s been a snow plow operator, “it’s the worst storm I’ve been through,” Jason Lawrence said in a video about the rescue effort posted today on YouTube.

“It was blowing so hard, you couldn’t see nothing,” Larry Kjellberg, who operated another plow, said in the video.

The 120-mile trip normally takes about two hours. But this trek took 5.5 hours, thanks to the blinding snowstorm.

Griffith was still alive when the ambulance reached Hays Medical Center. Doctors there discovered a 99 percent blockage in an aorta called “the widow maker.”

“When it’s blocked, you’re done,” Dr. Elizabeth Hineman of Scott City said in the KDOT video.

The doctors in Hays inserted a stent, and Griffith was home in time for Christmas. He’s back to work on his Scott County ranch, feeling better than he has in years.

“They went above and beyond because that blizzard was just raging,” Griffith said in a statement released by KDOT. “The doctors, the EMTs and the KDOT guys are just giant people to me. They all played a role in saving my life.”

Storm spotter training class schedule for Wichita area

The National Weather Service office in Wichita has released its schedule of storm spotter training classes for the region. They start next week in Sedan and continue through early April.

The classes are free and open to the public. This year’s sessions are expected to last about 90 minutes.

Additional classes will be scheduled by emergency management directors in each county, though those schedules have not yet been released.

Wichita weather: Patchy dense fog early, then sunny and warm

The morning commute could be a bit tricky for drivers heading to Wichita and points west today, forecasters say.

Patchy dense fog is possible before 9 a.m., so drivers should be aware and drive cautiously if they encounter the fog. The patches of fog should burn off by mid-morning, however, and highs will climb into the 60s under mostly sunny skies.

Winds will be out of the north, forecasters say, with steady breezes in the teens and gusts of more than 20 miles an hour. Overnight lows should stay above freezing under mostly clear skies, and Wednesday is expected to offer more clouds and highs in the upper 50s.

For more information on current conditions, go to our weather page.

Wichita’s warm, dry January earns place in record books

It’s been so warm in Wichita this January that only one day saw the high temperature stay below freezing.

It’s been so dry in Wichita this month that measurable precipitation fell on just one day – and that was only .03 inches on January 24.

So it should come as no surprise that the month is poised to enter the record books in both categories. Based on forecast highs and lows through January 31, Wichita’s anticipated average monthly temperature will be 37.9 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. That’s 5.8 degrees above the normal average monthly temperature for January, which is 32.1 degrees. That would rank as the tenth highest average temperature for January in Wichita since records began in 1888.

This year will tie for the third driest January on record with 1994, according to weather service data. Only .02 fell in 1911, 1923 and 1961. No precipitation fell at all in January in 1914, 1919 and 1986.

Less than half an inch of snow has fallen in Wichita since Dec. 1. Wichita is more than 8 inches below normal for snowfall so far this winter.

The warm, dry month can’t be blamed on a stagnant weather pattern, weather service meteorologist Kevin Darmofal said. Fronts have been rolling through the Great Plains every few days, he said.

“We just don’t have the moisture” coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, he said. “It’s been pretty much cut off, or it gets shunted off to the east of us before it gets here.”

That pattern may finally break down by the end of the week, he said, when rain – and maybe some snow – is possible this weekend in the Wichita area.

Wichita weather: Breezy and unusually warm

A warm, breezy Monday is in the forecast for the Wichita area.

Highs should reach the mid-60s under mostly sunny skies, forecasters say. Winds will be out of the south and southwest, blowing steadily in the teens and gusting to more than 30 miles an hour. Overnight lows are projected to dip into the upper 20s under mostly clear skies, and January will bow out with more warm temperatures.

Highs should reach the upper 50s, forecasters say, with partly cloudy skies and winds easing and shifting to the north. Speeds should mostly stay in the single digits.

For more information on current conditions, go to our weather page.

Wichita weather: Lots of wind and a few sprinkles

A windy, potentially wet Friday is in the forecast for the Wichita area.

Highs could reach the low 50s under mostly cloudy skies, forecasters say. Scattered light rain is possible after noon. Winds will be robust out of the northwest, intensifying from the teens early in the day to the mid-20s later on. Gusts could top 35 miles an hour.

Blustery conditions will continue overnight, forecasters say, with lows sliding to the mid-20s. The weekend will be sunny but cooler, with highs in the mid-40s on Saturday and the low 50s on Sunday.

For more information on current conditions, go to our weather page.

New boss named for Wichita branch of National Weather Service

Suzanne Fortin has been named the new meteorologist-in-charge of the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service.

Fortin is currently science and operations officer in the Pleasant Hill branch, which serves the Kansas City metropolitan area. She will assume her new duties in April.

Fortin replaces Dick Elder, who retired at the end of 2011 after 34 years with the weather service – the last 20 as chief of the Wichita branch.

Wichita weather: A breezy January day

Wichita will have a sunny, windy day today, forecasters say.

Highs are expected to reach the low 50s, with north winds steady in the teens and gusting to more than 25 miles an hour. Overnight lows will slip to the low 30s, and then Friday will be almost a carbon copy: highs in the low 50s, with north winds gusting to more than 25 miles an hour.

The weekend will be sunny but cool, forecasters say, with highs in the upper 40s.

For more information on current conditions, go to our weather page.

Wichita weather: A bit of sun, highs in the 50s

It’ll be another warm, dry January day in the Wichita area today, forecasters say.

Highs are projected to reach the low 50s, with mostly cloudy skies and light north winds staying in the single digits. Lows tonight are expected to slip into the 20s, and highs on Thursday will again top out in the low 50s under sunny skies.

A slight chance of snow and rain arrives Friday, forecasters say, and then dry conditions return over the weekend.

For more information on current conditions, go to our weather page.

ABC World News report of ‘no warning’ for Monday’s tornadoes angers forecasters, residents

For the national media buffoons who claim the AL tornadoes “struck without warning”… shame on you. Go home.
ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann via Twitter

ABC World News led its Monday night newscast with the devastation caused by tornadoes that struck in four states in the southeastern U.S. late Sunday night and before dawn on Monday. Three people died in the storms, authorities now say.

The problem with ABC’s story is that there was ample warning for every tornado that touched down, officials say.

“We’re not aware of a tornado that occurred in areas that weren’t warned,” John De Block, warning meteorologist coordinator for the National Weather Service in Birmingham, told the Birmingham News.

Spann vented on the weather blog at

“NO WARNING? Get a clue. This event was forecast days in advance, and the average lead times for the entire event were 20 to 30 minutes. That is plenty of time to get to a safe place.
We were on the air non-stop from about midnight until almost 8 a.m.”

Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions in Wichita, fumed on his weather blog as well.

“Dianne: There was plenty of warning, starting 21 hours before the tornado struck!”

Alabama residents took to their phones and computers to set ABC straight.

“Your (Diane Sawyer) story on last night/early morning tornadoes was appalling and offensive,” Amanda Wise Vaughn wrote in an e-mail to ABC News that she shared on Facebook. “Did you bother to even check your information. Our meteorologist had been talking about this threat ALL DAY. We knew well in advance to be prepared. All one has to do is look at the pictures to know that if these people had not been warned to go to their safe places they would not be here today!”

It’s become a journalistic cliche to claim tornadoes hit without warning, Smith and others said.

“This seems to confirm my suspicion that there is a key on journalists’ word processors that says “there was no warning” and they simply press that key every time they have to do a story about storms,” Smith wrote on his blog, “Meteorological Musings.”

Such recklessness, Smith argues, could open the door to more deaths and injuries from tornadoes.

“Meteorologists really face an uphill battle: The media keeps inaccurately telling people that storm after storm occurs without warning,” he stated on his blog. “The public, who — outside of the affected area — doesn’t know better, assumes the media reporting is correct. So, when a tornado warning affects them, they don’t act on it. Why should they?! The warnings are no good!”

Jim Schmidt, emergency management director for Butler County just east of Wichita, said it has become routine to hear tornadoes struck someplace without warning.

“That’s a great headline,” Schmidt said, “but once you dig into the truth…”

Reporters almost always find someone victimized by a tornado who claims they had no warning, he said. But a review of a storm’s history will invariably show that watches and warnings were issued. What happens after that, Schmidt said, is a matter of personal responsibility.

“Nobody’s invented a way for us to come out and pull you out of bed and throw you in a storm shelter in the middle of the night,” he said.

The southeastern U.S. is particularly vulnerable to high death and injury totals from tornadoes, weather researchers have said, because basements are scarce, an increasing number of residents live in mobile homes, and when tornadoes strike it’s often in the middle of the night – just like Monday.

“Our biggest fear is always the storm that hits after the news at 10 and before 6 a.m.,” Schmidt said.

The deadliest tornado in Kansas history struck the small town of Udall at 10:35 p.m. on May 25, 1955.

“When people are asleep, it’s tough to warn them,” Schmidt said.

But the proliferation of weather radios and alerts via Smartphones or texts to cell phones have made that possible these days, weather officials say.

“A lot of us got rocked back on our toes with all the fatalities” from tornadoes in 2011, Schmidt said. “But we learned that making sure people are prepared is not over.”