Mass Transit in Kansas City

June 6, 2008

I would love to be able to get from my home in the Northland to my job in Johnson County. I’d much rather have someone else drive and I’d be happy to read, listen to podcasts or watch videos. I’d love it, love it, love it.

The problem is that it’s just not possible. I checked out the Metro site this morning and had it find me the “shortest” route from Barry at North Oak to Metcalf at 105th. The result?

Your trip will take approximately 2h29 min. You have 2 transfer(s) and the total walking duration is +/- 19 min.

2.5 hours to get to work. That would require me to be at the bus stop at 5:30am to get to work by 8. And then – assuming I managed to catch a bus around 5pm, which may or may not be possible – I could be at home by 7:30.

My morning commute takes around 40 minutes during rush hour. For the sake of traveling on public transit I think I’d be willing to double that, so that would be an hour and 20 minutes. But two and a half hours? I just can’t quite do that.

Northland Tornado Damage Surveyed

May 3, 2008

In going to the grocery store today (we frequent the Hy-Vee at Englewood and North Oak), we thought we’d take a look at the damage done along North Oak that has been shown on the news so much lately.

Along Englewood road there was quite a bit of roof damage done to the QuikTrip and the shopping center where Leo’s (BEST pizza around, BTW) and SidePockets got hit by another tornado a few years ago. The center looked like it was open – as was QuikTrip – but there were lots of shingles and signs ripped up.

Coming back home along North Oak we did see the check cashing place that has been getting talked about on the news, and it’s true – the place is nothing but rubble. Margarita’s next door was already being worked on – a crane looked like it was either removing or replacing a roof air conditioning unit. There were several other businesses in the area that looked like they suffered either wind or debris damage. We couldn’t really tell if Fins and Foliage (our favorite place for tropical fish) had been damaged – it’s right behind the other stores that were hit. Thankfully (?) our Sonic and LC’s hamburgers didn’t seem to be affected.

I will say that this damage looked a lot different than the damage around Parkville a few years ago when the tornado jumped the river, then proceeded eastward across Gladstone and into Liberty. Driving along Highway 9 you could see where it looked like something had just chewed a hole into the trees along the road, and there were several industrial corrugated metal industrial buildings that were just ripped apart. In that instance the path of the tornado was pretty evident – it had stayed on the ground for a while and left a trail. In the case of the Friday morning storm the tornadoes look to have been jumping up and down, and just happened to come down directly on some homes and businesses.

Our own neighborhood suffered mainly tree damage – lots of limbs down in the area, and one tree knocked across the road one street over from us. Our own damage was pretty minimal – we’re going to see if someone from Westlake can fix our window problems for less than our homeowner’s deductible.

I guess it goes to show you that the weather remains very much unpredictable, despite what all the computer models and graphics on the TV news would indicate.

Finally, a note of thanks. A couple of years back on my previous blog I chided the Fox 4 Weather team for not allowing comments on their blog. I hadn’t been back in quite a while, but was interested in their commentary on Friday morning’s events. While reading a post from Joe Lauria I did see that they now allow comments, so good for them.

A Rough Night – Part Deux

May 2, 2008

This afternoon the Kansas City Star reported that the National Weather Service says that one or more EF2-3 tornadoes touched down in the wee hours today in the Kansas City Northland. This begs a few observations:

1. I was quite wide awake at the time that these tornadoes touched down, and I’d probably attest to the fact that yes, they sounded like tornadoes. But…

2. We were told repeatedly through the evening that while “round two” of the storms coming overnight would potentially be severe, they WOULD NOT be tornadic. And…

3. There was no tornado watch OR warning for my immediate area during the time that the tornadoes touched down.

So let’s think about this.

A. Squall line storms can and do produce tornadoes, just less predictably than super-cells – and they are much harder to detect on radar. I would expect that the NWS would need a trained spotter confirmation to render a tornado warning during that type of storm, rather than the warnings they base on “hook echoes” seen during super-cell events.

B. If it is know that these type of storms can produce tornadoes, why wasn’t there a tornado watch for the remainder of the early morning hours, instead of ending at 1am as we were told during the 10pm news? Instead, why did we go to bed expecting the worst to be possibly high straight-line winds (which can of course be quite destructive) and potentially damaging hail?

The true irony of the past 24 hours is that the local TV affiliates preempted hours of programming (collectively) during prime time to follow tornadoes that largely didn’t cause any damage, but managed to give little to no indication to viewers that the real danger was coming in the overnight hours – probably because they themselves didn’t expect it.

A Rough Night in the Kansas City Northland

May 2, 2008

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.

Stupid Is as Stupid Tries to Get Satellite Hooked Up

March 26, 2008

Fresh off of the earlier revelation that someone in Kansas let his girlfriend become attached to her toilet seat through the festering sores on her buttocks, we have a new candidate in the Stupidest Midwestern Story You Don’t Want To Believe Is True But You Know It Is Because It’s Too Stupid Not To Be awards.

Someone in Deepwater, MO decided that they were going to install their own satellite dish. This was their first mistake – get a professional to help. I’ve had several of these dishes over the years, and they are nothing but heartbreak if you try to DIY. During the process, this errant home improvement aficionado couldn’t get his drill to make an adequate hole in the side of his home, so being an industrious fellow he came up with an alternative: a pistol. Drills make holes in things – guns make holes in things – so obviously, this was the right tool for the job. So Mr. Hawking decided to take his pistol out and fire several slug into the side of his otherwise law-abiding house.

The biggest of a long line of problems with this story? He managed to kill his wife in the process. She was outside, presumably trying to help find the best place for the hole to go when she was killed by the second of two shots.

The stupidity of this is absolutely breathtaking. First off, what kind of problem-solving process leads one to conclude that a gun is a safe and effective substitute for a drill? What kind of people decide that one person should be outside, probably out of the line of sight of the shooter, waiting to see what happened? What kind of person actually fires two shots in this scenario?

I am NOT making this story up – check it out at the Kansas City Star web site. I couldn’t make this up.

Best Breakfasts

March 25, 2008

There is an article up at rating the 15 best breakfast places in America. Of course, no Kansas City establishments made the list, and that’s OK. To add to the breakfast meme, here are a few of my thoughts on some great breakfast places around town.

Corner Cafe (Riverside and Liberty): This is the one breakfast to rule them all, one breakfast to bind them up…you get the picture. The Corner has some great down-home breakfast items, and they don’t skimp on the portions. If you don’t believe me, try the biscuits and gravy or the big-as-all-get-out sticky bun. They bake their own stuff right on site, which is a real plus. The prices are pretty reasonable, too.

Big Biscuit (Blue Springs): This place used to be in Independence on Highway 40, but recently moved over onto Highway 7 in Blue Springs. As the name implies their biscuits are their claim to fame, but I really recommend their country benedict – essentially biscuits with eggs and sausage patties smothered in gravy. What’s not to like about that? I wish that I could recommend another place in Blue Springs – a diner on 40 highway – but they don’t take cards, so I never got to go. Everyone else raves about it.

My other breakfast favorite is not just in Kansas City, but it’s midwestern – the QuikTrip jalapeno cheese sausage roll. These things ROCK – if you like something spicy in the morning, they will definitely fit the bill. Sure they have more chemicals in them than a Sugar Creek refinery, but they sure do taste good while they eat through your small intestine.

I know lots of people really like First Watch, and it’s pretty good…just not one of my favorites. I’ll also confess that I have a certain fondness for the breakfast items at Sonic, but since they stopped serving pancake on a stick it just hasn’t been the same. Food always tastes better on a stick. That’s why ribs are so good.