Several funnel clouds were spotted in the Wichita area earlier this week.
Normally, that would be enough to send residents scrambling for the basements and tornado warnings to be issued by the National Weather Service. But that didn’t happen Wednesday.
Meteorologists for the weather service and elsewhere stressed these were ‘cold core’ funnels and posed no threat to life or property.
No tornado watch or tornado warning was issued by the weather service as a result of the system that produced the funnels.
Nevertheless, McConnell Air Force Base sounded its siren.
“The bottom line is our emergency managers made a judgment call, and in the interest of safety, chose to sound the siren,” MSgt. Brian Bahret, superintendent of public affairs, said in an e-mail response to questions. “McConnell’s weather flight issued a tornado warning at 5:08 p.m., alerting base employees and residents about nearby severe thunderstorms that had the potential to generate tornadoes.
“After the warning was issued, four independent sources, both military and non-military, confirmed seeing cold air funnels close to McConnell. As a precautionary measure, and with safety in mind, McConnell emergency managers issued a tornado warning and encouraged people on base to take shelter. The warning lasted approximately an hour and was terminated by the base’s weather flight after the threat passed.”
As many as three separate funnels were viewed at one time just southwest of the city, the National Weather Service reported. But the funnels posed “a very low risk of touching down and causing significant damage,” the agency reported in a statement posted on its web site.
The funnels were the product of “weak background spin” in the atmosphere.
“Funnel clouds that eventually become destructive tornadoes usually form from supercell thunderstorms that have a large rotating updraft called a mesocyclone,” the agency stated.
It’s not easy for the untrained eye to detect the difference, however, weather service meteorologist Kevin Darmofal said, so it’s unwise for residents to try.
“You have to rely on forecasters to let you know whether it’s really a threat or not,” Darmofal said.