Microburst in the Flint Hills

A microburst is descending in the rain shaft at right. 

I’m enjoying dinner and blogging at one of my favorite restaurants, the Grand Central Cafe in Cottonwood Falls. About an hour and a half ago, when I was south of Manhattan, I got some views of a microburst hitting the ground. That is it just reaching the ground, the rain shaft at the right side of the photo above.

The photo below shows the winds causing the rain shaft to spread to the north and south near the ground.

The radar shows a small cell to my west (I’m at the blue “bullseye”).

The Doppler radar winds show the distinct pattern of the winds spreading out to the north and south (arrows) associated with a microburst.

I have annotated the second photo to show the wind flow in the microburst.

Three Perfect Days in Wichita

With the High Plains Conference rapidly approaching and with news that the Midwest Family Conference is being held in Wichita the same time (first weekend in August), I thought it might be a good idea to repeat my “Three Perfect Days in Wichita” feature from a few months ago.

Day One is here.

Day Two, visiting the Flint Hills, is here.

Day Three is here.

I also want to add a word about the Sedgwick County Zoo, which surprises many to learn is the 18th largest in the U.S. and one of the most highly acclaimed. There are a lot of interactive features and, if you have children, they’ll love it!

It will be great having you in Wichita for either of the conferences or at any time!

WSJ Covers the Flint Hills Fire Dispute

In the Flint Hills, the dead brush of the previous year is burnt off each spring.



Various Kansas cities have violated clean-air limits on a handful of days in the past few Aprils, around when the range fires are set. Wichita, Kan., exceeded clean-air limits on two days this April.

As a resident of Wichita, on the side of town closest to the Flint Hills, I don’t have any problem at all with the current burning practices.

Decide for yourself by reading this coverage in The Wall Street Journal

More Opportunities to Enjoy the Flint Hills

Opening up the magnificent Flint Hills so more people can enjoy them:

Lyon County rancher Jan Jantzen said some people are already paying to be out in the Flint Hills, especially if they can participate in ranching activities.

For about 12 years he has operated Kansas Flint Hills Adventures.

What began as taking friends of friends on trail rides and to springtime prairie burns evolved into a business that drew tourists from most states and several countries.

“The demand so exceeded my imagination,” he said. “These people really want the Flint Hills experience. They want to ride a horse through the tallgrass and not see it from the road. They want to be there when the fire’s lit and help out instead of staying far away and taking a picture.”

The full story on the plans to make the Flint Hills more accessible from The Wichita Eagle. 

Flint Hills Burning

Photo taken this week in 2010 between Strong City and
Council Grove, Kansas

The annual burning in the Flint Hills of Kansas, America’s last stand of Tallgrass Prairie, is underway. The satellite image below, using infrared sensing, shows the fires burning tonight.

The burning is an important environmental action. Otherwise, cedar saplings would overrun the Hills and the grass would not provide as much nourishment to livestock. In addition to ruining the view, some research indicates the saplings would create unfavorable conditions for a number of native birds.

So, while the burning is good for the Flint Hills environment, there is a problem: Even though the smoke originates well outside of Wichita and Kansas City, the EPA counts it against those cities’ air pollution records which may force environmental restrictions that would hurt the local economies.

The smoke drifts into Kansas City, Wichita, Topeka and other
cities causing elevated air pollution readings.

State officials are attempting to work with the EPA in order to come up with a solution. More on that, here.

A Heartwarming Story

“Wichita Eagle” photo by Michael Pearce

THE FLINT HILLS NEAR CASSODAY — A thousand horses come pounding, thundering across the prairie, nostrils flared and snorting, manes and tails flying in the wind.

It is one of the most iconic living images of the Old West: wild mustangs running free across the prairie.

For the past 10 years, it has taken place each day within the Kansas Flint Hills.

The entire story is here.

That Was Fast!

Usually, it takes an hour for Symphony in the Flint Hills to sell out…

Tickets to this year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills sold out in 30 minutes, according to a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Symphony.
The sixth annual Flint Hills event is set for June 11 next to Mill Creek Scenic Drive between Alma and Alta Vista in Wabaunsee County.

More here.

This is Really Cool

A book about last year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills. Click here. You can click on the book’s cover at the link and preview each page of the book. You can read about their weather safety program on pages 54 and 55.

I just ordered my copy.

The "Home" of "Home on the Range"

Later this month, Kansas celebrates its 150th year of statehood.  The Wichita Eagle is doing a series of historical articles about the state and I found today’s to be especially interesting.  Click here.  

It tells the story of the little cabin in Smith County where Brewster Hegley wrote what would become the state song of Kansas, Home on the Range. Says the article,

Go anywhere — Ireland, Africa, Russia and China — and people know the song.


“That song is the most famous cowboy song in the world,” said Orin Friesen at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper near Benton. “When the Wranglers played in China, we played ‘Home on the Range’ and sang it in Chinese. If you look at the songs other states have — like the ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and put all the state songs on a list and ask people from across the world which ones they recognize, I bet ‘Home on the Range’ would be No. 1. It’s the most famous state song of all.”

2010 Symphony in the Flint Hills. Click to enlarge photo.
For me, the most moving rendition of the song was at this year’s Symphony in the Flint Hills when Lyle Lovett led the crowd in a sing along. 
Thanks, Beccy Tanner, for a great article!

"Return to Prairyerth"

Here is your chance to visit the Flint Hills and learn more about the history of the area. William Least Heat-Moon will be in the Hills next Saturday for the debut of the documentary, Return to Prairyerth, based on his best-selling book. Details are here. There is a video introduction to the movie at the link.

Behind the Scenes at the Symphony

I want to introduce you to two of the hardest working people around, Emily Hunter (left), the executive director of Symphony in the Flint Hills and Linda Craighead the site manager of the event. While everyone was having a great time, these two were in constant motion behind the scenes to insure everything went well. 
From 9 o’clock Saturday morning through 10:45pm, the three of us worked together, along with the meteorologists at WeatherData’s forecast center, to insure the 7,200 people (a complete sell-out) were safe in the remote location. Lightning, hail, high winds, tornadoes and flash floods were all possible the day of the event because of a stationary front right over the site and extremely unstable air to the south.  I spent virtually the entire day glued to the computer because of volatility of the weather situation.
At 10:30am, when we had the official weather meeting, things looked grim at first glance: There were thunderstorms 9 miles to the southeast and 12 miles northeast of the site and a drizzle was falling. However, given the newly developed tools created by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, I was able to confidently forecast that the event could be safely held, at least until 9pm, even though things weren’t ideal at decision time. I said the skies would start to clear around 1pm.
Banners depicting the bluestem tallgrass accented with musical instruments. 
The first forecast turned out to be excellent. The first patches of blue sky showed themselves at 1:16pm.
The second forecast held as well. We were able to get through the entire concert in good shape.  We were hopeful that we would get through the after-concert activities (music, a dance, etc.) but Mother Nature intervened. 
Towering cumulus clouds southwest of the site shortly before the concert began indicated the unstable atmosphere that was ripe for thunderstorm development.
A small area of thunderstorms with both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning developed south southwest of the site and started moving directly toward it. While conditions had been unfavorable for thunderstorm development prior to sunset, the tools I had indicated that those thunderstorms could be sustained. Given that it would take people, once informed, 45 minutes to walk to their cars (there was no safe shelter at the site, which is selected for its remoteness deep in the Flint Hills) I advised Emily to spread the word that lightning was possible and that people should move to the safety of their cars. The forecast caused the post-concert parties to be shortened.
The finale of the concert. 
Well, Mother Nature surprised me and the storms dissipated before reaching the site.
As I write in Warnings, the next challenge for weather science is to cut down on the false alarms. The tools I had indicated conditions were right for thunderstorm intensification (which did indeed occur about an hour later.) Meteorology is doing a very good job getting alerts out before dangerous storms, but our techniques to tell when storms are going to weaken are not as mature.
From the people I have spoken with, no one seemed too disappointed. I believe people realize that it is better to err on the side of safety – getting to their cars dry, at a leisurely pace, and safely.

"And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day"

Yesterday was the annual Symphony in the Flint Hills and it was simply stunning. As guest artist Lyle Lovett said, “once you have seen the Flint Hills you are changed forever.”

My teammates at WeatherData were doing the forecasting and storm warnings and I was the on-site meteorologist for the event (the subject of a posting tomorrow). The weather was quite cloudy at the time the gates opened.  However, I was confident the sky would not be “cloudy all day.”

As background, please go to my posting of ten days ago to see the site before the tents and other structures were constructed. One of the goals of the organizers is to give people the opportunity to get deep into the Flint Hills to see their incredible beauty.

Because the weather was quite questionable during the morning, I was extremely busy until I took a quick lunch break. Before you is the view from the food tent before the gates opened.

The atmosphere is quite a bit different from most symphonic concerts.

The Kansas City Symphony and Lyle Lovett performed an exquisite program of music appropriate to both the occasion and location. Click on the photo to enlarge.

The closing number was Mr. Lovett leading the crowd in a stirring rendition of the state song of Kansas, “Home on the Range.” Men were so moved, they put their stetsons over their hearts. The sky was not cloudy all day.

People come from all over the United States for this event and I highly recommend it. If you are interested in tickets for 2011, click here to sign up for information (lower right).

UPDATE: A friend of mine attended for the first time yesterday and emails me the following:  I was completely, totally blown away. It was so beautiful, and the music was so wonderful that I find myself using the word “magical.”

Serious Flood Threat in Kansas and Missouri

Flash flood warnings (maroon) and flood warnings (green) are in effect for many areas of Kansas and Missouri. Five inches of rain in the last three hours have fallen in the central Flint Hills. Just received a report of K-58 closed in that area. U.S. 54 was closed for a time near Yates Center. 


The graphic below is the radar-estimated rainfall. The pinkish colors on the Greenwood-Lyon county line are estimates of more than ten inches. Rivers are going to be on the rise the next 24 hours. If you plan to travel, please check on road and river conditions

The Kansas City area had flash flooding and a number of water rescues Tuesday evening.

Symphony in the Flint Hills 2010

I spent yesterday afternoon on a site visit to the location of the 2010 Symphony in the Flint Hills. The photo below was taken at the bottom of the natural amphitheatre in the area where the stage will be.

The view down into the amphitheatre area and the vast prairie — miles and miles without a structure. Those of us who photograph the Flint Hills often struggle with the challenge of capturing this vast, beautiful area on film or digital.

Here is a view from the top where the tents will be located. The vehicles are staking out the locations of each of the tents, concessions, etc. Perhaps this image gives you an idea of the vast spaces involved.

WeatherData is providing the weather forecasting service for the Symphony.

Flint Hills Fires and Pollution

There is a problem with the Flint Hills fires and that is the increase in ozone they cause in Wichita and Kansas City. The Environmental Protection Agency has been concerned about this for several years. This article makes it seem like the parties involved are attempting to negotiate a solution.

Andrew, Part II

If you page down you will see my nephew Andrew Vogliardo’s (pictured in front of the 120+ year-old one room school house at the Tallgrass National Preserve) photos of the Flint Hills. I promised a Part II and here it is. The following photographs are Andrew’s…

Stone Fence
Lookin’ out for the toddler
New Growth

This field was burned eight days before. In just that amount of time, new prairie grass is already appearing.

Nice work, Andrew!

Guest Photographer, Andrew Vogliardo

My nephew, Andrew Vogliardo, is going to study photography at Kansas State University in the fall.  Like me, he also enjoys trains. So, we met in Cottonwood Falls and spent the day taking pictures in the Flint Hills. The following photographs are Andrew’s. Click to enlarge any of them.

The colors of the Flint Hills.

Kansas 177 – The Flint Hills Scenic Byway.

The Flint Hills are the summer home of literally hundreds of thousands of head of cattle where they graze on the rich prairie grass and roam the wide open spaces.  Don’t think cattle can gallop? Just watch them when they are being released from the cattle truck into the wide open Flint Hills!

We’ll have more from Andrew later.  Thanks, Nephew!