Sunday, February 28, 2021

Spring is around the corner - and for Tornado Alley residents, that means "be prepared"

 I spent decades as a newspaper reporter and still do freelance pieces on occasion - including the one I'm sharing below for those who do not have a subscription to the paper in which it appeared. I'm doing it as a public service, since it includes information on safety and preparation for the possibility of severe weather. Prepare a safety plan that works for you...

Spring tornado forecast for Kansas seems eerily familiar

Duration 3:40
Timelapse video shows strength of Kansas EF-4 tornado
(FILE VIDEO) Timelapse video shows the development and strength of an EF-4 tornado that tore through Kansas on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. 

While the recent record-shattering invasion of arctic air may be still fresh on many people’s minds, some meteorologists are taking a closer look at what spring will be like.

What they’re seeing is a bit unsettling: the atmospheric conditions across the northern hemisphere for this spring closely resembles 2007 and 2011 – years that produced rare EF5 tornadoes, the strongest on the Enhanced Fujita Scale used to measure the strength of twisters.

A record 216 tornadoes touched down from Canada to Texas on April 27, 2011, including four EF5s. The outbreak claimed 348 lives. A month later, another EF5 tornado swept through Joplin, Mo., killing 161 people and injuring more than 1,000 in the deadliest single tornado in the U.S. since records began officially being kept in 1950.

In Kansas, a tornado nearly 2 miles wide essentially wiped Greensburg off the map on the night of May 4, 2007, killing 11 people and injuring almost 70 others. The tornado was the first EF5 recorded under the revised Fujita Scale and the last tornado in the state to earn the scale’s highest rating.

That history is what makes some Kansas officials nervous about 2021.

“I’m definitely concerned about what this storm season has in store for us,” said Keri Korthals, emergency management director for Butler County, which was hit by the last F5 in Kansas prior to Greensburg, on April 26, 1991.

That tornado killed 17 people – 13 of them in the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park – and led to the creation of an emergency management department in Butler County.

“Historically in Kansas, it seems like our weather likes to lull us into complacency before bringing out the big sticks,” Korthals said in an email response to questions. “It gives us a string of mild seasons that make us forget how bad it can get, and then…”

Last year was astoundingly quiet for Kansas and Tornado Alley as a whole. Only 17 tornadoes touched down in the Sunflower State in 2020, the lowest total in more than four decades.

For the first time since official records began 70 years ago, not a single tornado touched down in the 26 counties of southeastern Kansas included in the warning area of the Wichita branch of the National Weather Service. Not only were there no tornadoes, there were no tornado watches issued by the Wichita office.

To put the sleepy 2020 in perspective, Kansas has averaged 94 tornadoes a year over the past decade and 89 over the past 30 years. The Sunflower State hadn’t logged such a low tornado total since 14 in 1976 and 16 in 1977.

“I’ve heard multiple people use the phrase ‘we’re so overdue,’” Korthals said. “And that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck a little bit, wondering if we’re to the ‘big stick’ year yet.”

The record-setting cold spell that began to finally ease last weekend “isn’t helping that prickly feeling,” she said.

“And given that we’re still in our COVID response phase, that makes it even more unsettling, since that adds an extra layer of difficulty to sheltering, responding and so on if we do have a bad season,” Korthals said.


Despite the correlations to years that produced rare top-of-the-scale tornadoes, AccuWeather is not predicting an unusually active year for Kansas. Instead, just as in 2011, the southeastern U.S. is projected to see a surge in tornado totals.

High pressure linked to drought in the southwestern U.S. will spread into western Kansas this spring, pushing storm systems east of Kansas, said Paul Pastelok, a long-range forecaster for AccuWeather.

“There may not be a lot of precipitation for your area when the fronts come through,” Pastelok said in an email response to questions. “I am leaning toward Dixie Alley, rather than Tornado Alley, this spring. Moist air from the Gulf of Mexico may have a hard time consistently reaching back into the Plains this spring.”


But forecasters and emergency management officials caution against complacency in Kansas. All it would take is “one big one” to hit a populated area and make this year a bad one, said Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist for the Dodge City branch of the National Weather Service.

“I would bet it will be plenty active in Kansas as far as severe weather,” Hutton said in an email response to questions. “For the number of tornadoes? That will all be completely dependent on each individual severe weather day. There is no scientific skill in predicting that number.”

There was no shortage of strong thunderstorms in Kansas last year, Hutton said. What was missing were the final ingredients needed to initiate tornadoes.

Sedgwick County Emergency Management Director Julie Stimson urged residents to not take tornado season lightly.

“The thought of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes is not on the forefront of many minds,” Stimson said in an e-mail response to questions. “With the recent cold weather and on-going pandemic, the thought of a tornado striking the area is an unnerving thought — exactly why we must begin preparing now.

“We have already seen major tornado events in the U.S. in the midst of the pandemic, demonstrating the urgency to prepare simultaneously to the threat of severe weather while continuing COVID precautions,” she said.

Kansas will observe Severe Weather Awareness Week this week, Stimson said, making this a good time to review what steps you’ll take in the event violent weather threatens.

This includes sorting out where to take shelter if you’re at work or school, updating your emergency supplies kit, and ensuring you have multiple ways of receiving emergency alert notifications — even during power outages.


Now is a good time to review and safeguard important documents that can help start recovery right after a disaster:

  • Review and update insurance policies
  • Take photos of valuable belongings you may want to include in an insurance claim
  • Create a list of medications, allergies and medical equipment
  • Locate and safeguard birth certificates, passports and social security cards
  • Have current digital photos of loved ones readily available
  • Designate an out-of-town contact who might be able to help you reconnect with loved ones
  • Have a reserve cell phone charger
  • Create an emergency contact list.
  • Stay informed on current weather forecasts and conditions through local media, social media, and the National Weather Service-Wichita office website:
  • Because of COVID-19, stay current on advice and restrictions from your state and local public health authorities as it may affect your actions and available resources and facilities.

    If you do have to evacuate to an emergency shelter, protect yourself and others by

    • Practice social distancing from other people outside your household
    • Follow local shelter COVID 19 precautions: wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes and follow mask-wearing policies.
    • Follow disaster shelter policies and procedures designed to protect everyone in the shelter, especially those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
    • If you feel sick when you arrive at the shelter or start to feel sick while sheltering, tell shelter staff immediately

    Source: Sedgwick County Emergency Management

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Something nice to wake up to.......


On a cold, icy morning in the final days of 2020 - a year I'm sure most of us would like to forget - this was nice to wake up to.......

Thursday, December 10, 2020

I finally stopped dragging my feet.....

 .....and now have a website featuring my books. I welcome your reactions!

Tina Leitzel designed it for me and I can't recommend her enough for not only her skill but her patience with all my questions and suggestions. She's designed it so it can expand as (hopefully) more of my books are published. 

I hope to add fresh material over time as well. This is both a culmination and a new beginning for me, and I'm excited about where it can lead......

Monday, November 30, 2020

If hindsight is 2020....

 ....then I can't wait to put 2020 into our hindsight.

What a year.

As the finish line nears, I look back and can see how fortunate I have been in so many ways. I have managed to avoid getting COVID (or if those allergies were actually COVID, I escaped with a mild experience with it), loved ones who came down with it have survived (thus far) and for the most part I was able to keep busy with freelance work.

I even managed to fine-tune a couple of novels and nearly finish the sequel to FALLEN TREES.

The muse has much more it wants to do as well.

If nothing else, 2020 has reminded us to take absolutely nothing for granted. It's reminded us what really matters. I hope those two lessons stick with us as we move into 2021, realizing that we're not out of the woods yet and once we reach that clearing, the world will be forever a different place.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

You never know when inspiration might strike

The other night as I was getting ready for bed, I found myself listening to rain drops slapping a gutter.

It was a distinct sound that cut through the urban noise clutter...and before I knew it this wonderful tale started spooling out in my imagination. Such moments are magical and I hope to turn it into a short story or novella soon.

I share this because it's a reminder that you never know when inspiration might strike: in the shower, on your daily commute, while walking the dog or watching your children sleep.

Whatever it might be - a string of musical notes, some song lyrics, a poem or a scene from a future book - find a way to remember it and respond. It's your creative side at work and the more you nurture it the more it will give you.

And, speaking from experience, there's something intangibly enriching about listening to those prompts.

So give those surprises room to blossom. You'll be amazed at what can happen.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Disappointed but not discouraged

I received word this week that an agent who expressed strong early interest in my next novel has decided not to move forward and represent me.

While disappointing, I am grateful for what I learned during their considerations and feedback and move forward. I'm still optimistic about the book's potential and hopefully I'll find an agent who wants to work with me. It's a process and this is all part of the journey.

In the meantime, the muse is still active and I'm happy about that.

And a new review on Goodreads for FALLEN TREES made me smile: "I honestly had to read more than once, it was that suspenseful." 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Looking for a memorable Christmas present or a good winter read? FALLEN TREES is both!

I had just arrived at the state library convention in downtown Wichita and was still setting up my display for FALLEN TREES when a woman walked into the room, turned the corner and blurted, "Oh, my God!"

Mind you, I don't get that reaction every day.

"May I help you?" I asked hopefully.

"I can't believe it," she said. "I asked my daddy what he wanted for Christmas - he's awfully hard to buy for - and he said, 'The only thing I want is a book I've been hearing a lot about. It's called FALLEN TREES.' I've been determined to find it for him - and here it is."

She doesn't live in Wichita, but was in town for the conference. She sounded like someone who had discovered a snowflake in the Sahara.

Several months later, I received a message from a reader who told me he didn't read much, but he received a copy of FALLEN TREES for Christmas -- and loved it. It may well have been the father of the librarian I crossed paths with at the conference. I was so pleased he enjoyed the read - and was deeply touched by the daughter's devotion to her father.

I have heard so many stories from readers about how this book touched them and changed their lives. I always viewed the book as a pleasant summer beach read, but it's become much more than that for countless people who have read it. The reaction has been both humbling and inspiring.

Here are just a few excerpts from reviewers on Goodreads:

"Fallen Trees is a story that I could read over and over and find something new and enjoyable each time. It's a story worth adding to your collection." - Kathryn

 "If you're looking for a good cuddle book, I would suggest grabbing a glass of wine, favorite throw blanket and have at it. You won’t be disappointed." - Charletta Barksdale

"There's plenty of great authors who deal with the need or exigency (Raymond Carver) to cut, shorten, sharpen. Some rewrite their works infinitely bringing them to their very bones (Graciliano Ramos, the Brazilian master). Some go straight to the point (Cormac McCarthy). Mr. Finger deserves a place among them." - Len Berg

"A wonderful tale brought to life with great skill, of love and finding purpose." - Hilario

It has been gratifying to see how FALLEN TREES has resonated with readers around the world, not just those in a particular location. It tells me the story is universal.

If you'd like to get a copy for yourself, a friend or a loved one, click here.

If you prefer to purchase it from an independent bookstore, you have a number of options.

Watermark Books, which is in Wichita, has it in stock. So does Eighth Day Books, a religious bookstore in Wichita that also features local authors. Other Wichita options include the Doo-Dah Market downtown and The Workroom, which is in the Douglas Design District east of Old Town. They're both fun places to visit in person, too!

My book is also on the shelves at Bluebird Books & Cafe in Hutchinson and Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore in Emporia.

Fans have been begging me to write a sequel and I have good news: I have started work on it! I hope they love it as much as FALLEN TREES.

I'm blessed to have been given the ability to write...and people who love to read my words. I hope to have both for a long time.

I want to wish all of you a holiday season filled with love and laughter and cherished memories, whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or both (or something else entirely).