No, it’s not too early for the severe weather – thunderstorms, wind and hail, rain and flood, tornadoes – most commonly associated with mid- to late spring. Local emergency planners point out that last year’s worst local tornado, in Oak Grove, was just less than a year ago.
So they want people to be ready. Their message: Know a little about weather and, more importantly, how to get good weather information quickly. Have a kit of supplies at home and in the car. Have a plan.
“I want people to start taking action for themselves,” said Mike Curry, Jackson County’s director of emergency preparedness.
Many resources to help out are available this Saturday in a half-day National Weather Service event open to the public. A similar event is coming up in late March in Blue Springs.
Saturday’s event is from 9 a.m. to noon at Crown Pointe Church, 5950 N.E. Lakewood Way. That’s about half a mile south of the intersection of U.S. 40 and Little Blue Parkway (the parkway turns into Lakewood Way south of that intersection). It’s free, and no advance registration is needed. It’s drawn more than 300 people most years, but there’s room for 800.
Meteorologists will be on hand.
“They’ll explain the difference between a scary-looking cloud and an actual funnel cloud,” Curry said.
Channel 9 meteorologist Bryan Busby will discuss advances in Channel 9’s radar and “the overall advancement of (weather forecast) products in the Kansas City area,” Curry said.
Curry said he hopes people come away with a deeper interest in weather and a better idea of where to turn for weather information. Les Boatright, assistant emergency management director of the Central Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, will discuss that. Curry said Boatright will talk about outdoor sirens and how to stay in touch with good weather information during a bad storm.
Boatright is planning a similar event March 24 at CJC’s Training and EMS Education Center, 4715 West U.S. 40 in Blue Springs. It’s from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s free, and lunch is provided. Registration starts at 8:30.
Boatright also said it’s important for people to try to be self-sufficient, so the workshop will focus on “what people can do to be prepared in the event they become a victim.”
Keys, he said, are to have an emergency plan, have a designated place for your family to meet if displaced, have emergency contact numbers written down and stay in touch with weather information.
More events are on the way. Next week is Severe Weather Week in Missouri. Some residents may hear sirens twice, first for the statewide test on Tuesday and then, in some cases, local first-Wednesday-of-the-month testing the next day.
Officials point to a range of resources:
• Online sources such as preparemetrokc.org and others outline the basics and then some information for putting together an emergency supplies kit and having a plan for your home, business or church.
“Ready.gov is probably the best source for that type of thing,” Boatright said.
• Curry stresses the need to keep a close eye on the weather, acknowledging that even in the most dire circumstances it’s just human nature to not act on the first report of a storm warning but rather to seek confirmation, whether from a friend or family member or from the TV.
So, he says, have several options. One is Nixle, a commercial service available free to Jackson County residents. Text your ZIP Code to 888777 to sign up. A weather radio is a good idea. Also, Curry says, for $9.95 a year, the commercial service WeatherCall will alert three phones and three email accounts of your choice.
The National Weather Service recorded 102 tornadoes in Missouri in 2017 and three so far in 2018, including two last weekend. Tornadoes peak in late spring, but they happen in Missouri year-round.
“And everybody thinks tornadoes come only in the month of May and later,” Curry said.
On Saturday, he’ll offer a synopsis of a paper he did on the March 6, 2017, tornado in Oak Grove, which heavily damaged many homes.
That tornado – an EF-3 with 160 mph winds and on the ground for about 12 miles – was one of dozens reported that day across much of the Midwest, though with 15 injuries it was the worst. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center lists March 6 as the most active day of 2017, with 89 tornadoes – most of them weak but still destructive – and more than 600 reports of storms and storm damage from Oklahoma to Wisconsin.
Curry spent 68 straight days following up in Oak Grove and said valuable lessons were learned. He said the 1,550 volunteers – “They did a bang-up job,” he said – helped greatly and said residents were genuinely grateful for the county’s help getting rid of debris.
With a warming climate, Curry said, we’re seeing more severe thunderstorms even in the winter.
“We can’t take anything for granted any longer,” he said.