Updated 10:30 p.m. Sunday, May 19
By Travis Mounts
A tornado damaged three homes and farms north of Clearwater and closed numerous roads, including the main road running south in Clearwater. No injuries were reported.
"From the damage, I would say it's a tornado and not straight line winds," said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter. The storm struck just before 4 p.m. Two different witnesses told The Times-Sentinel they saw the tornado, although both said they could not tell from their vantage points if it was on the ground.
Downed power lines forced authorities to close 135th Street North from north of 55th Street South running south to 63rd Street South. A number of dirt roads east of that area also are closed. The area in question basically runs south of K-42 Highway south to 55th Street South, and from 135th Street West on the west edge to Tyler Road on the east.
Power lines cover a stretch of 135th Street West at 55th Street South. The road was closed after the storm Sunday afternoon, and the main road into Clearwater was expected to still be closed during Monday morning's commute.
Easter urged people to stay out of the area. More than a mile of power lines appeared to have been down, and lines were across numerous roads. There was a lot of sightseeing traffic in the area. Authorities said that traffic was hampering clean up efforts and that drivers were endangering themselves and others.
The National Weather Service office in Wichita said late Sunday night that the tornado was an EF-1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, with winds between 86 and 110 miles per hour. The tornado touched down about five miles north of Clearwater. It was on ground for 4.6 miles and was wide as a half-mile. It lifted about two miles before reaching Mid-Continent Airport on Wichita's southwest edge.
Easter said he expected roads to be closed through Monday morning's commute because of the extent of the power line damage. Drivers needing to travel between Clearwater and Wichita are urged to use 103rd Street South going east from Clearwater and to travel north and south on either Tyler Road or Ridge Road.
At a media briefing Sunday evening, Easter said three homes and farms were damaged by the storm. There were occupants in all three homes, but no one was injured, he said. Easter was not able to provide how many people were in the homes or their ages.
The Times-Sentinel saw damage at two farms, one near 55th Street South and 135th Street West, and another at 55th Street South and Maize Road (103rd Street West). Near 135th Street West and 55th Street South, the top of a silo could be seen laying in a field and part of an irrigation system was overturned. Power lines looked to be down from along 135th Street West to near Maize Road and 55th Street South, nearly two miles away.
A home and several outbuildings near 55th Street South and Maize Road were damaged, and there several downed trees west of 135th Street West along 63rd Street South.
The storm caused part of the city of Clearwater to lose electricity, although it appeared that much of the area impacted was east of Fourth Street. Businesses such as Casey's General Store and Clearwater Liquor were without power early Sunday evening, while Mize's Thriftway on the west side of Fourth Street and the downtown area along Ross Street had power at around 5:30 p.m.
As of 9:30 p.m., Westar Energy was reporting more than 5,500 customers without power throughout Sedgwick County. There were damage reports across the county, and the outages were not limited to any one area.
A long stretch of power lines were snapped off north of Clearwater (staff photo/Tiffany Struthers).
Wheat was flattened in this southwest Sedgwick County field (staff photo/Tiffany Struthers).
Sheriff Jeff Easter addresses the media following Sunday's tornado (staff photo/Travis Mounts).
A tree along 63rd Street South between 135th Street West and 151st Street West was broken off by the storm. Several trees in the area were broken or uprooted.