Kansas, at the heart of America’s Great Plains, is known for a number of things: the rolling hills, gorgeous landscapes, wheat fields, oil wells, world-famous barbecue — and tornadoes. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, Kansas endures an average of about 96 tornadoes per year, putting it just behind Texas for the most tornadoes in the United States. If you are moving (or thinking of moving) to Kansas — or even if you live here already — there are a few things you should know about tornadoes in Kansas.
When Is Tornado Season in Kansas?
Generally speaking, tornado season in Kansas lasts from about April to June each year, although that in no way means that’s the only time to worry about tornadoes. Tornadoes can occur at any time during the year, but in peak season, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico often collides with the drier, cooler air from the Rocky Mountains, which concocts the perfect recipe for tornadoes. A violent thunderstorm might give way to the formation of a tornado.
So why are there so many tornadoes in the state? Kansas is one of several states in the central part of the US known as “Tornado Alley.” Kansas, in particular, has features that make it ripe for the formation of tornadoes: flat terrain, abundant moisture, and atmospheric instability.
Which Counties Are More Affected?
Unfortunately, there’s no place in Kansas where you’d be guaranteed not to encounter a tornado. They can strike in any part of the state, although certain counties are more vulnerable to them than others. Historically speaking, Sedgwick, Reno, and Barton counties tend to have the highest concentration of tornado activity. The county with the least number of tornadoes is Wyandotte County, which saw only ten of them between 1950 and 2020.
Is Climate Change Increasing the Number of Tornadoes?
At the moment, the jury is out on whether the number of tornadoes in the United States is actually increasing. Developments in tornado detection technology have produced more reliable observations of tornado numbers, but there is currently no hard evidence showing the number of tornadoes is increasing. However, one thing that does seem to be happening is “Tornado Alley” may be shifting east. Tornado Alley typically refers to the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, although states further east — notably Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Illinois, and Indiana — have been seeing an uptick in both the frequency and severity of tornadoes.
Protecting Yourself Against Tornadoes
Knowing how prevalent and dangerous tornadoes can be to Kansas residents, what can you do to help protect yourself?
First and foremost, it pays to be informed. Take the time to pay attention to weather forecasts and have a line to authorities in case of emergency. There are a number of tornado detection apps on the market that can keep you in the loop at all times.
In particular, college students in Kansas should be thoroughly aware of their institution’s safety procedures and protocols, such as safe areas and evacuation procedures. It might be easy not to take weather alerts and tornado warnings seriously, but it could mean the difference between life and death.
Second, create a safety plan for yourself and your loved ones. Identify a safe location in your home (basements or interior rooms on the lowest floor are ideal) and have a kit with essential supplies available in that area. A typical emergency kit might include a flashlight, first aid kit, food, water, and batteries.
If you’re a homeowner, consider reinforcing your house against tornado damage by installing storm doors and windows. If circumstances allow, also consider building a tornado shelter or safe room to decrease your risk further.
Installing extra safety features on your home can also provide some financial protection in the form of insurance discounts. If you’re a homeowner, you already know homeowners insurance is a must, and you’ll be glad to learn most standard homeowners insurance policies will cover tornado damage. All the same, however, you should review your coverage to make sure it’s efficient and consider purchasing additional coverage if you think you need it. While you’ll still be paying more than the national average for homeowners insurance ($3,535 a month, per data from The Zebra’s Kristine Lee), you can bring those rates down by shopping around for cheap Kansas home insurance and finding what discounts you can.
If you’re renting an apartment, you should know renters insurance will typically cover the loss of your personal property due to tornadoes and windstorms. For that reason, college students might strongly consider purchasing renters insurance if they’re living off-campus.
Kansas lives up to its reputation as a member of Tornado Alley — but residents can help protect themselves by staying informed, having a plan, and taking precautions against the risks tornadoes p