On May 20, Pettis County was once again in the cross hairs of another tornado. Thankfully, we did not have any fatalities or injuries. Although, we in Pettis County were spared a major disaster, we must remember that our fellow citizens experienced a disaster that directly affects them. Some had homes damaged, barns collapsed and loss of income until they can repair and rebuild, that is not what we normally think of as a disaster but it is to those who are dealing with the aftermath.
The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill confirmed that this storm produced an EF-0 tornado with top winds of about 85 mph, just west of the Pettis County Line. The tornado then traveled another 14 miles developing into an EF-1 with a wind speed of 95 MPH.
Pettis County was placed into a Tornado Watch at approximately 12:50 PM and a Tornado Warning was issued at 4:56 PM. The original warning had La Monte, Hughesville, Sedalia and Smithton in its warning polygon. The Sedalia-Pettis County Emergency Operations Center made the decision to place the entire County under a Tornado Warning, and set off warning sirens county-wide.
Tornado shelters, sometimes called Safe Rooms, were open and available at Smith-Cotton Jr High School, Green Ridge, La Monte, Hughesville, Houstonia, Maplewood, and Smithton. Unfortunately the shelters at North Sedalia and Skyline are closed for repairs. They have developed large cracks in the roofs that allow water to pour in. This amount of water also has short-circuited electrical systems. In the interest of public safety it was determined that until these could be fixed they should be closed. Pettis County is working with our engineering firm to develop a fix, and we will then send the proposed fix out for bid. Once a contractor is selected we will then proceed with the repairs. These shelters are not of normal concrete construction and under FEMA guidance they must have an engineered fix. We wish that it was not as long a drawn out solution, but it is what we have to do to get the fix implemented.
We did have an issue with three sirens and they have all been repaired. Tornado Warning sirens are meant to provide outdoor warnings only. If you live near a siren and can hear the siren inside that is great, but many people don’t or can’t hear the siren. The Emergency Management Community for years has promoted the use of redundant systems to alert you of impending severe weather:
• NOAA All Hazards Alert Radio: Tuned to Channel 5, and set for Pettis County, SAME Code 029159. EMA will be happy to program your radios. If purchasing a radio ensure that is SAME or FIPS code programmable, this will be listed on the package.
• The Pettis County Sheriff’s Office provides NIXLE as a free text message service to receive alert messages. You can go to www.NIXLE.com and follow the instructions or you can text your Pettis County Zip Code to 888777. Follow the instructions and you will be signed up to receive NIXLE messages from the Sheriff’s Office. Text charges may apply, dependent on your cell phone contract.
• If you have a “smart phone”, go to your App Store, and search for Red Cross Tornado App. This is a free service you can download, but you must have your GPS turned to on for this work.
• There are also many “pay” services that you can find that accept a small annual fee and they can contact you through your home phone, cell phone, text and e-mail. Many of the Kansas City based TV stations offer this type service.
When a Tornado Warning is issued, EMA will direct which sirens will sound. Based on the storm, it may be that sirens will sound County-Wide or they may only sound for the specific area that the storm will affect. It just happened in the last 2 tornado warnings we have made the decision to place the entire county under a tornado warning, based on the characteristics of that storm. We cannot sound the sirens during the entire warning, it would burn up the sirens and they would have to be replaced. During a tornado warning sirens will sound periodically throughout the warning. It only signifies that we are still under a tornado warning. Sedalia-Pettis County EMA or any other government organization will NOT use a siren to signify an All Clear. Tune into local radio stations 1050 or 1490 am to receive further instructions. NOAA Radio will also announce when the tornado warning has expired.
When the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Watch this is a time to pay close attention to the weather. 96% of tornados occur during a watch; this is a very significant finding. The ability to predict severe weather has grown with leaps and bounds as technology has improved. This is also true of ways to warn the population. The one thing we all need to keep in mind, is that this is not a perfect system, but it is the very best we have and we do our very best to provide that warning.