After threat of severe weather ends, the National Weather Service assesses damage

Becky Birdsong took this picture east of Salina.
Becky Birdsong took this picture east of Salina.

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The threat of severe weather is over for today, according to KSN meteorologists but there’s still a lot of work to be done after storms ripped through much of the region yesterday afternoon and evening.

KSN has been in contact with the areas most affected throughout the night.

In one of the most impact areas, Saline County said three homes were damaged by storms, but thankfully no reported injuries.

KSN hasn’t heard back from Dickinson County or Cowley County Emergency Management at this time but will continue to check back with them throughout the morning.

The first step after major weather events is checking for possible injuries and damage, but after that initial threat is over, it’s time to assess the storms themselves.

Tornadoes come in all shapes and sizes and we know they can move extremely slow or incredibly fast. But the size, shape and speed don’t always determine tornado strength.

Yesterday, KSN meteorologists warned multiple times that the smallest tornado can still cause significant damage. They also warned just how quickly conditions can change in severe weather situations. In Cowley County, specifically, tornado warnings expired and were re-issued within minutes.

It’s because of that uncertainty that the National Weather Service (NWS) has a specific way of classifying tornadoes and storms, all depending on speed and damage.

“It really depends on what it hits. If it hits a barn, obviously, it takes a lot less wind to destroy a barn than a well-constructed family home. So a lot of it depends on what it hits and how the building it hit was actually constructed,” said Robb Lawson, a meteorologist for the NWS.

The process for classifying tornadoes and assessing storm damage is both interesting and important. First, the NWS collects reported storms and tornadoes from witnesses and trained spotters. They plot those reports on a map and then send out alerts, which is how KSN is able to share that there’s a tornado or other severe weather in specific areas.

Those trained spotters know exactly what to look for to report severe events, like tornadoes.

It’s not until later, though, that the NWS can go out and assess the damage themselves to give a final call on just how many, if any, tornadoes hit an area and what their size and strength was.

“Today around 8 or 9 o’clock this morning, we’re going to have a number of people come in, meteorologists for us. They are going to look at the preliminary damage reports and they’re also going to look at the radar data and try to find out where the damage occurred at and they’re going to go out to those locations.”

Once they’re out in the field, the NWS crews will use their tools to make final decisions on damage and tornado classifications.