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Microbursts — everything you need to know about the symphony-canceling culprit

Volunteers worked Saturday to clean up debris after an early Saturday morning storm tore through the planned site of the Symphony in the Flint Hills. (Photo by Kelly Glasscock)

By Matthew Kelly

When volunteers arrived on the scene at Irma’s Pasture early in the morning of June 15, it was as if a tornado had struck.

Tent canopies were overturned. Trash cans and folding chairs were strewn about the pasture. The 14th Symphony in the Flint Hills was canceled.

Over a year’s worth of planning and a week’s work of setup had been laid to waste overnight. But the culprit wasn’t a tornado. It was a microburst.

Nathaniel Reynolds teaches meteorology in Wichita State’s geology department.

The patron tent was torn down by an early Saturday morning storm at the planned site of the Symphony in the Flint Hills at Irma’s Pasture in Chase County. (Photo by Justin Sperry)

“Microbursts are localized areas of damaging winds at the Earth’s surface that come from thunderstorms,” Reynolds wrote in an email.

According to the National Weather Service, there are approximately 10 microburst reports for every one tornado.

“Some of these come from an isolated thunderstorm which develops a strong downdraft that hits the ground and spreads out,” Reynolds wrote.

Columns of wind can strike the ground with devastating force.

“Sometimes microbursts come from a thunderstorm that is part of an organized line of storms, accompanied by widespread strong winds,” Reynolds wrote.

That was the case in Chase County around 1:30 a.m. on June 15 when a microburst wreaked havoc on Irma’s Pasture, leading to the first-ever cancellation of the Symphony in the Flint Hills.

Two volunteers collect and stack tables that were inside of a tent at the planned site of the Symphony in the Flint Hills in Irma’s Pasture. Several dozen volunteers showed up to help after the site was damaged in a storm. (Photo by Daniel Caudill)

Within three to four hours of the disaster, there were also numerous reports of wind damage upstream from Bazaar, in Sedgwick, Reno and Kingman Counties.

A large tree uprooted and fell on a house in Nickerson, and in Kingman there were reports of winds gusting at least 75 miles per hour.

The symphony is historically held on the second full weekend in June. SFH organizers said almanacs indicate that to be the least volatile time of the year for Kansas weather. June 15 was actually the third Saturday of the month because June 1 fell on a Saturday.