Surprise tornados ravaged the Kansas City area this summer—here’s what it all means

Around 1 am on a Wednesday in early June, large swaths of south KC were awakened by phone notifications and screeching sirens. The forecast had called for a dark and stormy night, but a tornado warning came seemingly out of nowhere. It was no false alarm, as a storm caused damage from Marysville to Leawood, where a tornado skirted 95th Street.

Among the households hit was Sue and Jack Grant’s of old Leawood. 

“I was in bed,” Sue says. “I heard a noise hitting the window, and I looked out the window and things were just swirling. It was blowing so hard immediately. I believe that tree went down and took the power line down, too.” 

The douglas fir tree in the Grants’ backyard lost its top twenty feet, which scattered debris over their yard, and the powerful winds tore shingles off their home’s roof and ripped off their electrical box. Their house, along with most of their neighborhood, was without power for four days Friday morning.

The tornado was caused by a line of thunderstorms called a “squall line,” says Neville Miller, meteorologist for KMBC. A squall line is a line of severe thunderstorms that form along or ahead of a cold front. These squall lines can stretch for hundreds of miles and produce destructive winds, hail and tornadoes along their path. 

Most tornadoes around KC strike between the months of April and June, so the timing was what you’d expect. However, the storm was stronger than you typically see in this area.

“It happens this time of year, but it is unusual to have it happen so quickly without warning,” Miller says. “The overnight timing of the storms can add an element of surprise, even when forecasted ahead of time.”

Most of the storm’s biggest effects were not in Leawood but in parts of Marysville and Manhattan, which caused structural damage to power lines, residences and two Kansas State University sororities.

Aaron Wintermote, the spokesman for the Riley County Police Department, estimates that there was $9.74 million worth of damage, including three homes that were declared completely destroyed. Wintermote says straight-line winds, which can reach over a hundred miles per hour, caused the bulk of the damage. 

“Typically, there are many more reports of damage from straight-line wind than tornadoes,” Miller says. Straight-line wind damage tends to be more widespread and blows storm debris in one direction, as opposed to the concentrated swirl of a tornado that spreads debris in all directions.

When these surprising weather patterns emerge, it’s important that people stay up to date with local forecasts. Wintermote urges people to sign up for severe weather alerts to keep up to date on weather patterns happening in their area. Wintermote also cautions people to stay in shelters, preferably a basement or local storm shelter, to be prepared before severe weather even hits.

“[It’s a] good reminder to our community that it can happen, and it’s not only tornadoes that can cause significant damage,” Wintermote says. “Anytime we have a severe storm come through, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

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