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Night of a Hundred Tornadoes

May 1st, 2012 at 11:08 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

The Langley Tornado, 4.14.12. Photo by Stephen Locke, used with permission.


“I can easily recall the pungent scent of this tornado path,” Stephen Locke wrote. “Violent winds strip bark, blend grass, open the earth and liberate a cacophony of volatile essences unto the air. A blind person would know she is traveling through a tornado’s path.”

Every Kansan likely has his or her own stories from the tornado outbreak of April 14. The tornadoes appeared, as promised by the forecasters who had started talking about this event a week earlier. These twisters damaged homes and businesses, farms and rural areas, but considering the quantity and the size of these tornadoes, the injuries and destruction could have been much worse.

Dave was in Salina visiting his mother that weekend. He heard sirens three times and saw a funnel lift before his eyes and rotate above his mother’s house. I was in Emporia, hauling survivalist gear to the basement: a radio with new batteries, flashlights, and thick bedspreads to cushion me from flying debris.

While Dave’s experience and mine may be typical of what many people faced that Saturday, I wondered what the day was like for those who saw it from a different perspective.

So I asked two Kansans, Stephen Locke and Mark Bogner, to share some of their experiences.

Facebook friend Stephen Locke is a professional photographer in Roeland Park. He does a lot of studio work, photographing babies and families, but during the severe weather season he often chases storms.

Stephen Locke

On April 14, he followed a tornado on the ground near Langley in Ellsworth County. It was an exceptionally photogenic twister and he has incredible photos and videos on his website: tempestgallery.com.

“I spent the entire day working this storm,” Locke wrote. “It struggled with itself for hours trying to maintain two updraft towers and I very nearly abandoned it for alternative storms developing upstream.”

“In its prime this was indeed the perfect storm,” he said. “It established balance and began cycling predictably, producing multiple tornadoes. I lost computer data so chased this storm ‘old school’ using visual cues only.”

“The Langley storm occurred during daylight hours making it very visible,” Locke said. “Most tornadoes are brief. The Langley storm was long tracked, thus allowing more time and opportunity to be photographed.”

Another Kansan intimately connected with the barrage of tornadoes that day was Mark Bogner, a meteorologist with KSN-TV in Wichita. Bogner is a friend, and he and I are currently co-writing a book about Kansas weather.

Mark Bogner

The job of a broadcast meteorologist is to keep people informed and to keep them safe. Bogner was pleased that Kansans took the warnings seriously.

“Some of those tornadoes were large and long-lived and I know that many lost everything they had, but the fact that nobody died in Kansas is nothing short of a miracle of modern science and probably just a plain old miracle,” Bogner said.

Preliminary reports indicated 97 tornadoes that night, although the number will likely drop in the National Weather Service’s final count.

At one point a tornado was headed for downtown Wichita. Salina was being threatened and “… another monster tornado was on the ground near St. John headed right into Lyons – three large, damaging tornadoes on the ground at the same time,” Bogner said.

I asked him what it was like to be in the path of the storm while broadcasting. He said, “We hardly had time to think about our own danger, but at one point, I remember looking at the production guy that was in helping us, and both of our faces were ashen with large eyes, especially when the power went out on the metro cam just to our southwest. I wondered if that was the tornado coming up and taking out power as it went.”

Bogner spent 18 hours at work that day.

“The amazing thing to me as a meteorologist is how time passes,” he said. “You can go for hours without taking a drink, eating a bite of food, going to the bathroom, sitting, or stopping talking and certainly the brain is running wide open, so time gets warped in your mind. Before you know it, hours have passed.”

We faced a night of dangerous skies and we survived. There will be more stormy nights to come. Stay aware and stay safe, my beloved Kansans.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

To view or to purchase Steven Locke’s photographs, visit tempestgallery.com.

Locke’s Langley tornado, Print 58,

Print 59.

Locke’s video of Langley tornado.



columns, Flyover Weather, Kansans, seasons, weather

  1. Janet Fish
    May 1st, 2012 at 13:16 | #1

    Why did this column bring tears to my eyes? Maybe it was your sign off. Good article Cheryl. Great writing.

  2. Flips
    May 1st, 2012 at 14:22 | #2

    Totally enjoyed!!! Thanks Cheryl–

  3. Kris Holmes
    May 1st, 2012 at 18:38 | #3

    This is a great column. I am in awe of Stephen’s pictures, and most especially this one. And I can’t wait to get you and Mark’s book!

  4. Anna Keller
    May 2nd, 2012 at 00:02 | #4

    Cheryl, great column… love your writing about weather! And Stephen Locke’s photos and and video are spectacular. Well done!

  5. Weeta
    May 3rd, 2012 at 09:54 | #5

    Wonderful writing, Cheryl. I’m glad you and your fellow Kansans are safe. Stephen Locke’s video was something else!

  6. heineken160
    May 3rd, 2012 at 21:14 | #6

    Cheryl, I think your collaboration for new book with a broadcast meteorologist is brilliant.

  7. May 3rd, 2012 at 21:18 | #7

    Thanks, everyone. And yes, Roger, it’s a pretty cool collaboration. Mark is a great guy and he knows his stuff and he writes well, too. I couldn’t have found a nicer guy to work with.