After the car was back in working order, we checked the radar and reports again, and it was apparent that no new storms would develop, but the supercells in Oklahoma were headed our way.

I am always amazed that people are surprised that reporters follow storms.

No one is surprised when I cover a city council meeting. No one thinks it is odd that I show up at a football, basketball, baseball or soccer game with my camera ready to go. When something has an impact on the entire community, you have to be there.

So Saturday night, my friend and I loaded up in his minivan and did everything we could to make sure the story was told. Fortunately, no one was injured in Butler County, Kan. But it didn’t look like that would be the case.

We left Augusta at about 4 p.m. and headed to Wellington. We knew that anything that came to Butler County would start there or at least get there first.

Once there, we killed some time waiting for storms to arrive. We helped some shade-tree mechanics get a car going for a nice couple from Tanzania who needed to get to Wichita.

After the car was back in working order, we checked the radar and reports again, and it was apparent that no new storms would develop, but the supercells in Oklahoma were headed our way. Making a bad situation worse was it would be dark by the time the storms reached us.

We headed west to Harper because smart people don’t get in front of a tornado at night in a minivan. As the storm crossed the border from Oklahoma into Kansas, we knew we were in the right place. We started heading back to the east, arriving in Argonia just moments after the large, wedge tornado had blown a shed out of a yard and uprooted several trees before laying highline wires across the road.

We checked on the family and blocked the road so no one drove over the lines. As soon as we were sure everyone was safe and emergency crews were on the way, we resumed the chase. We followed the storm and decided to catch I-35 north to get a good angle on the storm as it came through Sedgwick County. We stayed safely behind the tornado as we dodged debris on the highway near Spirit Aerosystems.

At that point, we got in touch with Augusta (Kan.) Gazette Sports Editor Jeremy Costello, who published a warning to our online readers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers that the storm was heading toward Butler County.

Things have changed a lot since a May 3, 1999, tornado when the newspaper I worked for in Oklahoma barely had a website and we were worried about getting color film developed.

We dodged toppled light poles and navigated Wichita traffic with no electricity, and we headed to Andover where the storm had weakened or lifted before making impact there.

Some trees were down, and much of the town was without power, but there didn’t appear to be any damage to structures. We followed the rotation all the way through El Dorado and couldn’t help but feel grateful that Butler County didn’t see the destruction Sedgwick County received.
We let readers know that the storm had left the area and began reporting on the damage that had been received.

With the damage we saw Saturday night, it was amazing that no one died in Kansas. There can only be one explanation: people took the warnings seriously.

Forecasters were able to tell people early in the week that Friday and Saturday were setting up for rough weather. Local television and radio stations sounded the warnings early Saturday and kept people informed in plenty of time to take shelter or even evacuate areas that would be hit.

When you see those crazy guys on television who don’t just chase tornados but also intercept them, you have to understand that the information they are collecting help make those warnings possible. Other weather research away from the storms also helps save lives.

But there isn’t much that can be done to prevent structural damage. This is why when this kind of storm hits our area, I am always thankful that I have a local insurance agent. No one from any of the online-only “efficiency experts” were driving around their towns, answering their cell phones and helping customers get started on the road to recovery.

I was blessed to have my business and home avoid damage Saturday.
But if I had, my insurance agent, who works down the street from me and lives in the same town as I do, would have been there for me. If that privilege isn’t worth a few extra dollars each month, I don’t know what is.