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 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.