By: MICHELLE SIMON
We know the drill, we live in tornado alley, we hear the sirens or the tornado warning alert on our phones and instead of taking cover many instead head outside or to the window to watch the sky unfold in a magnificent display of clouds, lightning, rain, and hail. And while watching a thunderstorm on a warm spring night can certainly be a sight to see, it can also be the height of foolishness, as tornadoes are capable of incredible damage in the blink of an eye.
On Tuesday, May 21, 2019, the National Weather Service – NWS reported a series of low-topped supercell thunderstorms that resulted in at least six tornadoes across northeastern Kansas including two that impacted the Prairie Band Potawatomi community.
One tornado in the EF-0 (light) category made touchdown near Rossville, Kansas at 6:10 p.m. and continued traveling north into the south west corner of the PBPN reservation entering near J and 118 roads and crossing through to K and 142 Roads when it lifted at approximately 6:32 p.m. Peak winds were estimated at 80 mph, with a path length totaling 12.64 miles from start to finish according to the National Weather Service. Powerlines were whipped around resulting in a loss of electricity to some on the reservation, trees lost branches and were uprooted and one home on the reservation lost a portion of its roof.
Six minutes later, at 6:38 p.m. another tornado was established just outside the eastern edge of the reservation, forming near Mayetta, Kansas where several PBPN members reside and traveled north until 7 p.m. This tornado was rated as an EF-2 (considerable) with estimated winds of 115 mph and an intermittent path length of 17.18 miles. Several structures and trees were severely impacted.
Immediately after the tornados passed the Tribal Police Department was out in force with several officers and extra dispatchers called back on shift to take calls and patrol the reservation checking for damage and possible injuries.
The Potawatomi Tribal Fire Department staff was on hand to track the storms and opened the fire department for those seeking shelter. Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA and NWS recommend not leaving a wood frame or brick home to seek better shelter as most injuries occur from flying debris. Cluster houses and elder housing units on the reservation are wood frame or brick homes equipped with basements or reinforced shelter areas.
If you happen to be outdoors when threatening weather approaches, the first choice is to seek a secure shelter, if possible. If it happens during working hours on the reservation, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., all government buildings are suitable for shelter.
If you happen to be at Prairie People’s Park, none of the structures in the park are considered suitable for shelter. Prairie Band Casino and Resort, located approximately 3 miles east of the park at 12305 150 Road, is the designated shelter for park visitors. RVs, campers, cars and tents can be deadly in a severe storm. As the very last resort, it is better to shelter in place in a car rather than a RV, camper or tent.
The best course of action is to monitor the weather, heed the warnings, evacuate earlier and choose safety first. Follow the link for more Tornado Weather Safety Tips.