Welcome to Prepare 2023, where Scott and I, along with our friends at Eagle Media help get you ready for the upcoming severe weather season! Through the course of this week, we will be looking back at last season, giving you some preparedness tips on how to safely navigate the upcoming storm and fire season, plus looking ahead at what’s to come.
This week’s topics:
Looking Back, Looking Forward | Severe Storm Safety | Fire Weather Safety
Tornado Safety | Andover 2022: A Retrospective
Looking back at 2022
Overall, it was a fairly quiet year for tornadoes, with just seven tornado watches issued for any portion of the state. It was much busier in regard to the number of severe thunderstorm watches, with 53 boxes issued for any portion of Kansas. In total, Kansas saw 63 twisters last year, which is 32 percent less than the 30-year average of 92. Four tornadoes were reported in Cowley County on the evening of May 31, five more tornadoes came from a monster supercell that marched south along US 77 from southeast Nebraska into east-central Kansas on the evening of June 11, while another half-dozen tornadoes bounced up and down Interstate 70 between Russell and Salina on the evening of June 23.
When combined with 2020 and 2021, the three-year period ending last year marks the quietest three-year period for tornadoes in Kansas since the 1950s.
From late June into November, the weather pattern went quiet. While there were some spotty days where precip fell, the main storyline was the deepening drought over much of Kansas. The pattern didn’t change until the calendar turned to December when we had a one to two-week spurt of winter weather that primarily impacted northern Kansas. The first two months of 2023 saw a pair of big winter storms impact portions of western and northern Kansas. Here in southern Kansas, the storms trended stronger, which meant a farther north track, and so far, has meant less snow.
Here is the breakdown of snow for winter 2022-23, as of March 4, along with principal storm tracks so far this winter (green dash arrows):
The lack of snow this winter has left the southern portion of the state in extreme to exceptional drought as of the last drought monitor report. To put it in greater perspective, the drought has steadily worsened over the course of the last year:
So, What Now, Matt?
We have seen the weather pattern turn more active in recent weeks, with our first severe weather event of the season coming just days ago. But the answers for how we get out of the drought and how the severe weather season might evolve come on a larger scale.
For the last three years, we have been stuck in this La Nina phase of the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation,) which has meant cooler waters off the west coast of South America, and for us, generally drier weather. However, current forecasts indicate the La Nina phase trending to more of a neutral (neither warm nor cool) and eventually, an El Nino phase later in the year.
This forecast is generally backed up by what we are seeing with the temperatures off the coast of South America, where temperature anomalies are running up to 1 degree Celsius above average:
Image Courtesy of NOAA
In a typical El Nino setup, we normally see a wetter western U.S. (the long-term drought is almost completely eradicated in California) and have a tendency for a more active subtropical jet stream, as documented in several severe weather episodes in Dixie Alley.
One place that is impervious to global oscillations is the Gulf of Mexico, which is the main source of moisture for storms in our part of the world. As of early March, the Gulf remains extremely warm, thanks to a persistent Bermuda High, which has kept the south unseasonably warm and the major east coast cities virtually snowless this winter.
As an aside, this is a huge warning sign for the upcoming hurricane season, but that’s for another post much later.
What Does All This Mean for Severe Weather Season?
Good question! Typically, El Nino springs are busier because of the wetter winter previous. However, because we are coming out of a La Nina and into a neutral phase, we don’t really have a good handle on what to expect. It is fair to guess that since we have more snowpack in northern Kansas and Nebraska, that those areas will see a faster green-up and potentially more action. Conversely, with the drought ongoing in southern Kansas, one could see dryline setups being farther east.
In short, we have some (but not a solid) idea of what could happen based on the indications we’re seeing. However, as Andover taught us last year, it doesn’t have to be the “perfect” setup to see severe weather. As we’ve seen and read about in the news, severe weather can happen all months of the year.
It is important to take this week to formulate a plan for where you will go if you’re at home, the office, or out shopping; weekday or weekend. Tomorrow, Scott will have some great tips on how to stay safe and calm during a severe thunderstorm.