A Rough Night in the Kansas City Northland

Kansas City’s “northland” is generally described as being the metropolitan area on the Missouri side north of the Missouri River. It includes communities like Parkville, Platte Woods, Gladstone, North Kansas City, Liberty and Kansas City, MO North. (What’s the difference between Kansas City North and North Kansas City? North Kansas City is incorporated as its own entity – Kansas City North is just the parts of Kansas City, MO that are north of the river.)

So with that geography lesson behind us, last night and this morning was – for us – the big kickoff of the spring severe weather season…and it was a doozy! Around 7pm or so we started getting tornado sirens going off for Clay County. There was supposedly a confirmed tornado touchdown north of us in Clinton county, and there were also tornado warnings south of us in Johnson and Miami counties in Kansas. Luckily Jen and TJ were already in the basement, and (amazingly) we still had DirecTV reception to watch the wall to wall severe weather coverage on the different local channels. We didn’t get any severe weather from the storm that caused the tornado warning, just lots of rain. So we eventually just went to bed…

…and were rudely awakened at precisely 2 a.m. when it felt like we were in the middle of an earthquake! You know how you feel disoriented when being awakened by some kind of loud noise or something? When I woke up the first thing in my mind was that we were in an earthquake for some reason…but it wasn’t an earthquake, it was hurricane force straight-line winds slamming into the front of our house, which faces west. I heard lots of ominous creaking and some odd popping noises, so I went into our library. That room has a big half-moon window and two (formerly) sealed double-hung windows underneath it. What I found was rain literally pouring down the insides of the (formerly) sealed windows from a new gap between the half-moon window and the other windows. Fun! I got some towels and – like an idiot – stood there next to the window trying to get towels around the gap and floor while the 80mph winds continued to buffet the house.

We actually did not get the worst of the storm – we live about a mile north of some of the heaviest-hit areas, which seemed to be between Englewood and 72nd street along North Oak Trafficway. For reference, we live at 97th and North Oak Trafficway. The Kansas City Star is covering the story, and their comments section has lots of interesting (and not so interesting) anecdotes in there from people that mistakenly think that the overnight storm “had to be” a tornado.

So, we have some admittedly minor storm damage that we’re going to be calling our homeowner’s insurance people about. It could have been a LOT worse. And the weirdest part? TJ slept through the entire thing without a peep, even when the power was going on and off. What a guy!

Special note about Kansas City television weather coverage: The local affiliates have discovered that “bumper to bumper” weather coverage seems to produce massive ratings, because people in Kansas City are weather-phobic. Instead of learning about the weather and how to tell the difference between tornadic supercells and squall lines, people would rather claim that they “had to have been” in a tornado because their roof was blown off, or because their neighbor said they saw a funnel cloud. At 2am. In a massive lightning storm. So in our collective ignorance, we turn to the television weather folks to provide comfort…which they largely do a decent job at, but over the past few years it’s become all-pervasive. Rather than breaking in to programming to say that a new tornado warning has been issued, they stay on the air during the entire life of the warning, regardless of whether or not any actual sightings have been made or damage indicated.

Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I don’t really lament the fact that so many of my Thursday night TV shows were pre-empted by weather coverage – after all, these were tornado warnings, and everything I like on Thursday night can be watched either on iTunes or from the broadcaster’s web site. Instead, I’m a little concerned that this type of non-stop coverage of weather “events” breeds fear in people rather than a desire to understand the weather. Green sky? Not necessarily tornadic – but probably hail-ridden. Swirling clouds? Maybe rotation, or maybe a lower level of scud interfering with your ability to see true upper-level rotation.

If this were a symptom of just spring severe weather season I’d probably just pass it off, but it seems to happen more and more during the other seasons – winter especially. A few flakes of snow and quite literally Kansas City seems to careen into the collective ditch. Now I’m not saying that we’re ALL morons – not at all. There was a great line in “Men in Black” where K tells J that “a person is smart. People are stupid.” Individually we seem to do OK, but when we act en mass – like when we all sit glued to the unchanging doppler radar display with slack jaws and tritchy remote control fingers – we seem to make dumb decisions.

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