Category Archives: History

“Under the weather”

We’ve all heard that phrase now and then – perhaps you’ve even used it.

“Not tonight, thanks. I’m feeling under the weather.”

A friend asked me some time back where that phrase came from…and I had no idea.

Turns out its origins are rather unclear. Several references I checked attribute the phrase to a maritime source dating to the mid-1800s. When a sailor was unwell, he was sent down below to help his recovery, under the deck and away from the weather.

But I’ve also read that the term is actually American in origin dating back to the 1820s, when it also meant feeling ill or indisposed.

Then again, friends can tell you that when I’m feeling a tad ornery I am apt to remind them that unless we’re astronauts on a mission we’re all under the weather, no matter what mood or state of health we’re in.

Raleigh Lackey on perhaps the nation’s first storm chaser

May 25 is engraved in Kansas tornado lore as the date Udall was obliterated by the deadliest tornado in the state’s history.

Former National Weather Service meteorologist Raleigh Lackey remembers May 25 as the date someone first earned the title of “storm chaser.” It happened in 1965, 10 years after the Udall tornado.

As Lackey tells it, David Hoadley came to the Great Plains from his home in the Washington, D.C., area in April 1965 to spot and photograph tornadoes.

“I told Dave that someone searching for tornadic activity needed a title similar to the term “Hurricane Hunter,” Lackey wrote in an e-mail to me.

He told Hoadley, “most single guys his age would probably be chasing girls, while he was out chasing tornadoes.”

He began calling Hoadley “Chaser” whenever he stopped by the Wichita branch of the weather service, where Lackey worked for more than 25 years before retiring in 1988. Coincidentally, “chasseur” is French for hunter.

Hoadley was staying at the Top Hat Motel just west of the Wichita airport, Lackey said. On May 25, 1965, the severe weather potential appeared to be west of Wichita, toward Dodge City. Hoadley reached Dodge at about 1 p.m., and later headed for Minneola and then east to Pratt.

He came back with photos of tornadoes, Lackey said, thus earning the title “storm chaser.”

According to the archives of The Tornado Project, there were tornadoes reported in several Kansas counties that day: Clark, Cheyenne, Clay, Ellsworth, Ford, Lane, Pawnee, Phillips, Pratt, Smith and Stafford.

One of the tornadoes was an F3 that struck not far from Iuka in Pratt County and injured 7 people. Another — one of two to hit Pawnee County — hit the Finger family farm as I took shelter in the basement, ducking my head and covering my ears. I was 4, and I expected the house to be torn apart any moment.

I never saw the tornado, but I heard it and felt the pressure changes as it roared past like a jet engine powering a massive beast. Memories of that day remain vivid, more than 40 years later.

Is there a bullseye for tornadoes on Greensburg?

Forgive Greensburg residents if they’re a tad jumpy this spring and early summer.

It wouldn’t merely be because of the massive EF5 tornado that wiped out 95% of the Kiowa County seat in 2007. Another 10 tornadoes struck Kiowa County last year. Only Gove, Sheridan and Trego counties in northwest Kansas recorded more.

If Kiowa County has another double-digit year for tornadoes this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if a bit of the Codell Syndrome sets in.

Tornadoes hit in or next to Codell on May 20 three years in a row: 1916, 1917 and 1918. While the twisters didn’t destroy the north-central Kansas town, they did shatter its spirit. Spooked residents fled the thriving farm community and transformed Codell into a ghost town.

If Greensburg and Kiowa County were to endure a third straight year of bombardment by tornadoes, I couldn’t blame folks there for gazing at the skies with bewilderment – and pondering a change of address.

A rare February for Wichita — so far

This is only the third February since 1950 to have at least six straight days with temperatures of at least 65 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The only other two years to accomplish that feat were 1996 and 1976.

Interestingly, those two years accomplished it late in the month: from Feb. 19-25 in 1996 and Feb. 23-28 in 1976.

In 2009, the dates were Feb. 5-10.

Speaking of really cold days in Kansas…..

….today is the anniversary of the coldest day ever recorded in the state.

On Feb. 13, 1905, the temperature dove to -40 in Lebanon, which is located in Smith County.

Lebanon is better known as being virtually the geographic center of the nation, but it has a spot in state record book as well.

Wichita’s coldest day ever…

….was recorded on this date – Feb. 12 – in 1899, according to National Weather Service records.

The temperature fell to -22 on this date 110 years ago.

The last time Wichita was this warm on February 6…

….was 1904.

Theodore Roosevelt was president, Willis Bailey was the governor of Kansas and a team from Pennsylvania – Pittsburgh – made it to the first-ever World Series the previous fall.

Meanwhile, in Wichita, the thermometer reached 74 degrees.

Five score and five years later, Wichita reached 74 again. Barack Obama is president, Kathleen Sebelius is governor, and a team from Pennsylvania – Philadelphia – won the World Series the previous fall.

At least Russia and Japan didn’t go to war this time.

Hug your weather forecaster today…

….or at least appreciate them.

Today is National Weatherperson’s Day, which commemorates the birth of John Jeffries, one of America’s first weather observers. According to the National Weather Service, Jeffries began taking daily weather observations in Boston in 1774. Ten years later, he took the first balloon observation. Jeffries kept weather records from 1774 to 1816.

It’s easy to complain when an expected dusting turns into a full-fledged snowstorm, or temperatures peak several degrees from where they were forecast.

But I think about how the weather service is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the long, strange hours even television meteorologists work during severe weather events.

I think about people like Mike Umscheid, the meteorologist on duty in the weather service’s Dodge City branch who had the foresight to issue a tornado emergency for Greensburg two years ago – a move that undoubtedly saved lives.

I think about the work Merril Teller, Jay Prater and Dave Freeman (and other meteorologists off camera) did for their television audiences that night in stressing the dangers of the storm that was unfolding; and how the people in Hoisington heard and heeded concerns voiced by meteorologists in 2001, going to their basements just before a tornado touched down just outside of town late at night and plowed through the northern part of the city. That only two people were killed by that tornado is remarkable, officials have told me more than once.

Those are only a couple of recent examples. I tip my cap, too, to the work done in years past by the likes of Cecil Carrier and Jim O’Donnell in the Wichita area and meteorologists around the world.

Mike Smith has moved into the private sector with WeatherData Services Inc., but he has been at the forefront of numerous technological advancements that have changed how people and businesses can get personalized forecasts and weather condition reports.

Meteorology is an important job, one often overlooked until our own lives are threatened by severe weather. On behalf of everyone who has ever wondered what the weather would be like on a given day, I say “Thank you.”

Inauguration Day weather

The forecast for Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States calls for mostly cloudy skies and cold temperatures, with highs in the mid-30s – a crisp backdrop to a historic moment.

But the weather hasn’t always been an afterthought on inauguration day. President William Henry Harrison was sworn into office on a cloudy, cold and blustery day in 1841. His speech lasted for 100 minutes – to this day, it’s the longest inaugural address in American history – and he rode a horse to and from the Capitol without a hat or overcoat. Pneumonia developed from a lingering cold he caught that day. He died just one month later. He was the first president to die in office, and his term remains the shortest ever.

President Franklin Pierce was sworn into office on another cold and snowy day in 1853. Heavy snow fell from dawn until about 11:30 a.m., according to National Weather Service records. Skies looked to be brightening by noon, but shortly after Pierce took his oath of office, snow started again.

As Pierce continued his inaugural address, the snow came down heavier than ever. Abigail Fillmore, First Lady to the outgoing President Millard Fillmore, caught a cold as she sat on the cold, wet, exposed platform during the swearing-in ceremony. The cold developed into pneumonia and she died at the end of the month.

But those two events don’t hold the title of worst inauguration weather ever. I’ll write about that on Tuesday.

One of the worst blizzards…..

… Kansas history happened on this date in 1886. According to the National Weather Service, “a massive blizzard struck nearly all of Kansas with little warning.”

More than 50 people died, and nearly 80 percent of the cattle in the state were killed.