Opinion

Symphony in the Flint Hills faces off against massive Kansas storm system, and the spirit persists

June 14, 2022 3:33 am
A shelf cloud looms over Symphony in the Flint Hills' concert site in rural Chase County on Saturday evening, ahead of a severe storm packing high winds and hail. The annual Kansas City Symphony performance ended early, and about 7,000 people sheltered in their vehicles during the storm. (A.J. Dome)

A shelf cloud looms over Symphony in the Flint Hills’ concert site in rural Chase County on Saturday evening, ahead of a severe storm packing high winds and hail. The annual Kansas City Symphony performance ended early, and about 7,000 people sheltered in their vehicles during the storm. (A.J. Dome)

Symphony in the Flint Hills encountered that dependable adversary of Kansas events on Saturday evening: severe weather.

Audience and performers had gathered for the 17th annual celebration — eloquently written about by longtime emcee Dave Kendall last week in the Kansas Reflector — when the bad news came. Organizers were informed at 6:43 p.m. that an enormous storm had changed course and had the outdoors event in its sights.

I doubt anyone wanted to hear it, given that the Kansas City Symphony was generating far more pleasant sounds. But if severe weather threatens, Kansans know time can make all the difference.

“When we learned that the storm was potentially two hours away, we immediately put our emergency action plan in motion and evacuated the site to put the safety of our guests over everything else,” said site coordinator Bill Hartnett in a news release. He added: “When you’re out in a large open space like the Kansas prairie, the experts had told us the safest place in a storm is your car. While it may have been a slow process of leaving the parking area, everyone was in the safest location on site.”

Nearly 7,000 were evacuated from the site and sheltered in their cars before the storm arrived. Such are the risks of Kansas in late spring.

Symphony in the Flint Hills’ theme for the year — “Weather in the Flint Hills” — seems to have forecast this very outcome. Regardless, Kendall captured arresting images and video of the day and its end. He’s allowed Kansas Reflector to share the video he worked up here.


 

Organizers are still looking over the event site, according to the news release, although they believe tents and poles suffered “significant damage.” Storm damage also was reported in Manhattan and Marysville that night.

Journalist A.J. Dome was also on the scene, covering the event for his paper, the Council Grove Republican. He took photos as the storm blew in and as the crowed cleared out.

“I received a text alert from K-State about a tornado warning affecting Manhattan, but ignored it to focus on the music,” he recounted in an email. “Another tornado warning alert came in around 7:30 p.m., and a few minutes later the announcement was made that the concert was canceled. The audience didn’t panic as they left; people were mostly in good spirits as they walked back to their cars. “Some folks even sang parts of ‘Home on the Range’ to carry on a tradition started at the first Symphony event.”

He highlighted all of those who helped the evacuation go smoothly: “Credit to the on-site meteorologists and emergency personnel who acted quickly to keep people safe.”

No one wants to see a much-anticipated event cut short by weather. But in the glorious Flint Hills, with views of plains and sky and clouds rolling in with the force of ancient dark gods, those attending got their money’s worth on Saturday.

After all, there’s always next year.

About 7,000 Symphony in the Flint Hills attendees and volunteers evacuate along a single gravel path over a Chase County pasture on Saturday evening. (A.J. Dome)
About 7,000 Symphony in the Flint Hills attendees and volunteers evacuate along a single gravel path over a Chase County pasture on Saturday evening. (A.J. Dome)

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

MORE FROM AUTHOR