Authors: Christopher “Chip” Redmond, Mary Knapp

What started out as a week with a spring-like feel in Kansas turned aggressive with a return to winter by mid-week. All of these changes were due to a strong storm system, one of which will be remembered for years to come. Various impacts extended across the central Plains Wednesday, Thursday, and into Friday, including a blizzard for the High Plains, heavy rains and flooding for Kansas/Nebraska, and very strong winds across the entire region. Satellite imagery displayed the extent of the massive impacts felt by this storm (Figure 1).

Figure 1. GOES east satellite imagery with low center of storm system marked with “L”, blizzard impacts outlined in blue, heavy rain impacts in green, and wind impacts in orange. (Source: www.ssec.wisc.edu)

Impact: Heavy rain

Warmer temperatures helped turn the frozen ground surface into a muddy mess. Several rounds of heavy rain in advance of the storm on Monday through Wednesday didn’t ease the mud. In fact, with persisting frozen sub-surface coupled with no vegetation growth and saturated soils, most of the rain ran off. This created flooding issues along streams and rivers in the region. Heaviest rainfall in Kansas through the period focused on south central to east-central Kansas (Table 1). This event alone provided over half the March monthly normal precipitation for many locations (Figure 2).

Table 1. Locations of heaviest rain observed on the Kansas Mesonet and the NWS Coop network (Source: mesonet.ksu.edu, Weather Data Library).

Kansas Mesonet Station Recorded Rain March 11-14 National Weather Service COOP sites Recorded Rain March 11-14
Butler 2.64” Arkansas City 2.80”
Woodson 2.14” Cambridge 2.69”
Sedan 2.01” Iola 1W 2.68”
Haysville 1.95” El Dorado 2.48”
Parsons 1.80” Rosaila 1NW 2.26”
Hiawatha 1.75” Thrall 1W 2.20”
Viola 1.54” Augusta 2.11”
Lake City 1.48” Madison 2.11”
Colby, Ottawa 1.33” Yates Center 2.10”
Figure 2. March average precipitation by county. (Source: climate.ksu.edu)

Impact: High winds

Winds increased dramatically late morning across western Kansas as the storm system strengthened in eastern Colorado. As the low shifted eastward into Kansas, the wind field expanded across the state. Strong winds continued through the duration of Wednesday and even strengthened into Thursday morning. Damage was reported to buildings, trees down across the state, and trucks were flipped as a result. Table 2 provides Kansas Mesonet maximum wind gusts across the state.

Table 2. Maximum measured wind gusts on the Kansas Mesonet on March 13-14, 2019. (Source: http://mesonet.ksu.edu/weather/maxmin)

Kansas Mesonet Station Max measured 30 foot wind (mph)
Garden City 71
Leoti 62
Viola 61
Richfield, Lane, Lakin 57
Meade 56
Hays, Satanta 55
Wallace 53 (six foot measurement)
Jewell, Colby, Ashland 8S 52
Osborne, Hodgeman 51
Tribune, Hutchinson 10SW 50

Atmospheric Pressure: why all the fuss?

Very low pressure at the storm’s center created a substantial pressure gradient across the region. With an increased pressure gradient, air movement towards the low becomes enhanced, converging and rising at the center. This rapid air movement develops the strong winds mentioned previously.

This system was so strong, it broke the state low pressure record in Colorado and came extremely close in Kansas as well. Standard air pressure in a benign atmosphere is around 1013 millibars (mb). At the peak intensity/lowest pressure of the storm, nearby weather stations in far southeast Colorado dropped to 970.2mb. This shattered the previous Colorado state record (976.3mb on February 9, 1960). The low weakened as it crossed the state line into Kansas, causing a slight rise in pressure (Figure 3). The Kansas state record low pressure is believed to be 971.2 mb set on March 13, 1973 at Goodland. Wednesday’s storm came within 0.6 mb of breaking the record with 971.87 mb measured at Stanton (Table 3). Mesonet data from this day has also been integrated into NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center lowest surface pressure archive to be used for future storms (Figure 4).

Table 3. Minimum recorded pressure at Kansas Mesonet stations. (Source: mesonet.ksu.edu)

Kansas Mesonet Station Lowest Recorded Pressure - mb (time CDT)
Stanton 971.87 (13:06)
Hamilton 971.93 (13:41)
Lakin 972.45 (14:05)
Leoti 972.77 (15:29)
Lane 972.42 (15:58)
Grant 973.03 (13:34)
Tribune 973.31 (14:10)
Figure 3. Map of low pressures observed at 1:15pm on March 13, 2019 (18:15 Zulu) on the Kansas Mesonet. (Source: mesonet.ksu.edu)
Figure 4. Tweet screenshot from the Weather Prediction Center’s lowest pressure maps used to diagnose strongest storm systems across the U.S. (Source: www.twitter.com)

Spring Arrives…Finally

Despite the brief return of winter on Thursday in the wake of the storm, warmer and drier weather is on the horizon for the weekend and into next week. This will help bring soil temperatures closer to normal and hopefully aid in drying out surface soil. Unfortunately, it appears the drier weather will not persist beyond next week as another stretch of cooler, wetter conditions are anticipated to close out the month.

Christopher “Chip” Redmond, Kansas Mesonet Manager

Mary Knapp, Assistant Climatologist