KSN Storm Track 3 Digital Extra: How tropical weather can impact Kansas

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Kansas is no stranger to the impacts of severe weather. Since we are landlocked, we are shielded from the initial hit of tropical systems, whether it is a tropical storm or a hurricane, making landfall. Storm surge, high winds, tornadoes and flooding are all threats that accompany these tropical systems that coastal states must face each year. Landlocked states, however, are not immune to the remnants of these tropical systems. In Kansas, our primary concern is heavy rainfall which could ultimately lead to localized areas of flooding.

Feeling the effects from these tropical systems from either the Pacific or Atlantic Basin has a lot to do with our upper-level jet stream, which acts to steer these disturbances one way or another. As seasons change throughout the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, our jet stream will see shifts that can influence when we could be affected here in Kansas. Understanding these shifts in the jet stream, where these storms typically originate and track due to the upper-level steering pattern, is important. For this discussion, we will focus on the Atlantic Basin. But, know that tropical storms and hurricanes that form in the eastern tropical Pacific can also bring remnant moisture inland to the Desert Southwest.

Tropical waves, or a cluster of showers and storms with lower pressure, that move westward off of the coast of Africa enter warmer ocean water. If conditions are favorable, storms can organize and steer westward by upper-level winds. During September, storms that form farther east are guided around a strong area of high pressure near Bermuda, known as the Bermuda High. This can shift a tropical system towards the East Coast or remain out over the ocean.

The second area that storms typically form is over the Caribbean. These tropical systems typically hit Mexico or move into the Gulf of Mexico, which can then affect coastal states. Storms on this track have a better chance to bring the remnants into Kansas if the upper-level steering pattern is just right after landfall.

Tropical tracks start to change by October due to the shift of the jet stream sinking to the south. This not only brings cooler temperatures to us here on the Plains but can also act to guide tropical systems from the Caribbean towards the eastern Gulf and up the East Coast.

If the storm tracks far enough to the east and Kansas sits on the western side of the circulation, it will give us drier and warmer conditions rather than rain and storms. However, it is not uncommon for tropical systems to bring heavy rainfall as far north as North Dakota and Minnesota.

In Kansas, the storm that brought the most rainfall was Frances which dropped 12.50″ of rainfall in Fort Scott back in 1998. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 brought heavy rain to Nebraska, and higher totals were noted into Oklahoma, where Norma dropped 18.71″ of rainfall back in 1981.

Fort Scott also saw more than 11″ of rainfall from Paine in 1986, which was actually a Pacific hurricane. This system brought heavy rainfall and flooding to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Several notable storms have been able to produce more than 5″ of rainfall in the Sunflower State due to remnants from Pacific and Atlantic tropical systems.

Within the KSN viewing area, locations such as Cedar Vale, Wellington and Arkansas City have been impacted by tropical downpours. Colby even received rainfall from Tropical Storm Candy, where 3.31″ fell in 1968. On average, due to the path a storm takes, eastern Kansas or areas east of I-135 typically stand a better chance of experiencing the leftovers.

The Atlantic hurricane season is not over yet. We just passed the statistical peak on September 10th, and activity remains high in terms of the number of named storms as well as hurricanes through the middle to end of October. So there is still time that we could see tropical remnants here in Kansas as we head into the fall months. We will monitor this closely in the weeks to come.

— Meteorologist Erika Paige

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