The 17th annual Symphony in the Flint Hills Signature Event held on June 11 ended early when the path of a severe storm changed directions and headed toward the event site in Bazaar, Kan.
“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 Bill Hartnett, site coordinator for Symphony in the Flint Hills.
The National Weather Service had a remote weather station set up at the event’s site and had been tracking a potential storm in northeast Kansas early that morning—at that time the chances of it heading south towards the event site were slim.
At 6:43 p.m., while the Kansas City Symphony was performing the sunset concert, event organizers were alerted that the path of the storm had changed and was heading towards the event site in Chase County. Within 15 minutes, everyone was in place to execute the emergency action plan which involved getting guests off the site as quickly and as safely as possible. The concert ended early and event staff, board members and volunteers effectively evacuated nearly 7,000 guests to their cars before the edge of the storm hit the site.
“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,” said Hartnett.
The professional parking crew – who works festivals across the country including Lollapalooza and Coachella – directed the flow of the traffic throughout the entirety of the storm. The pasture where cars were parked was emptied from the roadside back and there was a steady stream of traffic exiting the one lane out.
“While we’re disappointed that we had to end our event early, what matters most is that there weren’t any injuries and all 7,000 people on site found shelter in a short amount of time. That speaks to the incredible team of volunteers and staff who worked seamlessly and calmly to execute our evacuation plan. And we are so grateful for our guests who were patient and understanding through this unique circumstance. I couldn’t be prouder of how we weathered the storm together and I know we will never forget this event!” said Julie Hower, board chair for Symphony in the Flint Hills.
Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s Signature Event was “Weather in the Flint Hills.” The event site was also the location of the 2019 Signature Event that was cancelled due to damage caused by a microburst. The event site is still being assessed but significant damage to tents and poles has already been reported.