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'Kansas -- In the Heart of Tornado Alley'

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | Share

In 1915, Snowden D. Flora of the U.S. Weather Bureau wrote, “Kansas has been so commonly considered the tornado state of the country that the term ‘Kansas cyclone’ has almost become a part of the English language.”

Flora’s words still seem to ring true. Whether called twister, tornado, vortex or cyclone, these catastrophic events have shaped lives in the Sunflower State for generations.

That, in part, was the inspiration for two Wichita State University faculty and three graduate students to co-author the photo-based, local history book “Kansas -- In the Heart of Tornado Alley.”

The book was assembled by Jay Price, director of the public history program; Craig Torbenson, associate professor in geography; and WSU graduate students Sadonia Corns, Jessica Nellis and Keith Wondra.

“Even if someone has never seen a funnel cloud, there’s something about tornadoes that’s in the state DNA,” said Price. “It is remarkable how many people assume tornadoes are almost everyday events in Kansas.”

How tornadoes have shaped lives

The book explores the relationships between the people of Kansas and the tornado. It is not a comprehensive listing of all major tornadic events in the state; rather, the book shows the varied ways in which the tornado has shaped the lives of Kansans, and will likely continue to do so in the future.

The boundaries of Tornado Alley are debatable, but there is widespread agreement that the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and much of Texas form the core of the alley. Between 2000 and 2010, these four states experienced 3,908 tornadoes, with 40 percent occurring in Texas and 31 percent in Kansas.

“While other states receive a share of tornadoes, Kansas seems to embrace — or has been forced to embrace — the twister as one of its most powerful symbols,” said Price.

The book also explores the ongoing clash between perception and reality. Many Kansans hold on to certain myths and beliefs about tornado behavior, even in the face of case studies to the contrary.

The greatest challenge for those who are responsible for alerting the public in times of severe weather is to encourage average citizens to adequately prepare for possible tornadoes and respond in ways that help rather than hinder relief and rescue efforts.

In Wichita, the book is available at Watermark, Eighth Day Books and the WSU Bookstore. The book also is available from Barnes and Noble and www.arcadiapublishing.com for $21.99.

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Created on Tuesday, June 12, 2012; Last modified on Tuesday, July 03, 2012