Storms lay waste to towns, lives across Missouri
day care belonging to Mike and Jodi Breedlove in Stockton was destroyed
by a large tornado that struck the town May 4. Because the storm struck
on a Sunday evening there were no children or employees at the business
when it was hit. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed or
damaged in the town. Photo by Bob McEowen.
Denzil Roberts stands
in a field surrounded by large pieces of twisted metal, much of it from
a shop and other outbuildings that once stood on his Polk County farm.
Not far away Roberts
house still stands but is heavily damaged. Roberts and his wife, Donna,
survived the passing of a huge tornado hunkered down in a bathroom in
the back of the house.
We were watching
(severe weather reports on) TV and I said, Donna, thats heading
right for us! says Roberts.
They tried to reach
a cellar behind their home, but the ferocity of the storm blocked their
I was afraid
to step out. Ive seen tornados where you get out in them and they
pick you up and carry you away. It was over in 15 seconds. You go from
having $200,000 worth of buildings to having nothing.
Hundreds of similar
stories, many even more harrowing, have surfaced since that Sunday evening,
May 4, when Missouri found itself in the bulls-eye of a major outbreak
of tornados that swept in from Kansas and devastated huge areas of Missouri.
Over the next 10 days
storm after storm, including a dozen more tornados, struck Missouri. From
Jackson in southeast Missouri to Jefferson City in central and De Soto
in eastern Missouri, as well as in Canton in the northeast corner of the
state, storms wreaked havoc across 50 counties leaving 19 dead.
A flattened rental truck sits along Highway 5 in Camden County while
a Sho-Me Power Electric Co-op truck holds a powerline aloft to allow
traffic to pass. Photo by Jim McCarty
And Missouri was not
alone. In a record-breaking period, the National Weather Service reported
more than 400 tornados nationwide in the first 10 days of May. Storms
killed 44 people in five states including those in Missouri. Not only
was the number of tornados staggering, but so was the size and intensity
of many of the twisters.
We had two F4
tornados, which is very unusual, says Mike Hudson, a meteorologist
for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Pleasant Hill. An
F4 tornado packs winds of 207 to 260 mph causing devastating damage.
of long tract tornados of a very violent nature are rare events here.
In a common year across the entire country we average maybe 20 F4 to F5
category ratings, says Hudson.
Hudson says a combination
of events came together to make the first week and a half of May unusually
explosive for super cell thunderstorms and their accompanying tornados.
An unusually strong jet stream remained in place over the central United
States that steered strong storm systems right into eastern Kansas and
All the elements
came together ironically not once or twice, but three times in the course
of that time and we had tornados on the 4th (of May), the 8th and the
Sunday, May 4 will
be long remembered as the day when storm after storm ripped through southwest
and western Missouri and struck a large area of metropolitan Kansas City.
Tornados made direct hits on the towns of Pierce City and Stockton, nearly
wiping both off the map. Gladstone and Liberty suffered extensive damage
north of Kansas City. All but one of the states 19 fatalities occurred
on that first day of the storm outbreaks.
Two days later central
and western Missouri were hit by several severe storms with high winds
and tornados, which heavily damaged a large part of De Soto in Jefferson
County. In Jackson, near Cape Girardeau, flooding damaged the buildings
housing the citys fire and police departments, which had to be abandoned.
On May 8, storms again
rolled through western and central Missouri threatening Whiteman Air Force
base near Knob Noster where B2 stealth bombers are based. The billion-dollar
planes are kept in hangers designed to withstand winds of 120 mph and
A final series of
storms and tornados hit northeast Missouri on May 10 causing widespread
damage to Canton including Culver-Stockton College that lost a number
of buildings including its field house.
All told, the storms have caused more than $400 million in damage, according
to the Missouri Department of Insurance.
Taking the brunt of
the storms were more than a dozen Missouri electric cooperatives which,
all together, lost power to nearly 35,000 members when storms and tornados
broke hundreds of power poles and damaged several high voltage transmission
Cooperative, Bourbon, lost power to more than half its 18,000 members,
many of whom were without electricity for nearly a week.
Two of these
big storm cells hit simultaneously on our system and then met before hitting
De Soto, says Crawford General Manager Dan Blesi. Weve
got a lot of work to do yet on permanent repairs, but were just
thankful that everyone has service and nobody was hurt.
Steve Skopec, manager
of operations for Southwest Electric Co-op in Bolivar, says he was shocked
when he first saw the damage, which stretched 50 miles across the co-ops
system in Polk and Dallas counties.
come across the country and pick up and set down, but this one stayed
on the ground for so long and the width of it was amazing, says
Skopec. The damage is about three quarters of a mile wide everywhere
lineman for Ozark Electric Cooperative works to repair powerlines
in the heavily damaged town of Battlefield. Photo by Bob McEowen.
Just to the west,
in Cedar County, Sac Osage Electric Cooperative suffered even worse damage
and crews had to contend with getting around the devastation in Stockton,
the countys main crossroads community.
here 40 years and its the worst Ive ever seen, says
Sac Osage General Manager Ben Harper. I knew it was bad when the
boys radioed in that Stockton was gone. I knew then that we were in for
a real time.
In all areas hit by
storms, the immediate problem was getting co-op crews into areas with
downed power lines. Damage to trees was near total in some areas and often
roads and highways were blocked for miles by downed timber. Often electric
co-op crews, with the help of locals and the Missouri Department of Transportation,
had to cut and bulldoze their way through the mess to reach downed lines.
As in other serious
storms that hit Missouris electric cooperatives, the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives initiated an emergency response procedure
to get crews and equipment from co-ops unaffected by the storms into areas
needing help. In all 13 Missouri electric cooperatives provided aid to
other co-op systems .
This outbreak of tornadoes
reminds Pat Slattery, with the National Weather Service Central Region
office in Kansas City, of a similar super outbreak that spawned 147 tornadoes
in 13 states in 1974. The big difference, says Slattery, is the 1974 outbreak
killed 307 people compared to 42 this May.
that to better technology and better communications and being able to
get information to people a lot faster, says Slattery, who adds
that Weather Service meteorologists predicted the May 4 tornado outbreak
two days earlier and warned the media and emergency planners that something
big was coming together.
Slattery also gives
credit in Missouri to the partnership between the National Weather Service,
the State Emergency Management Agency and Missouris electric cooperatives
which has placed numerous weather radio transmitters in areas not able
to receive weather alerts in the past.
played a big role in our getting information out to people a lot faster.
remained of the courthouse square after a tornado devastated Stockton
on Sunday, May 4. Photo by Justin Ballard, Cedar County Republican.
Thousands of people
in Missouri continue to clean up the mess and pick up the pieces, literally,
of their lives. In hard hit Stockton, Charlie Meeks, the editor of the
Cedar County Republican, says shes inspired by the spirit of the
people of Stockton who are already beginning to rebuild homes and businesses.
Merchants were particularly hard hit in Stockton where every business
on the courthouse square was destroyed or severely damaged.
But what has impressed
Meeks the most is how people have come together to help each other and
how that spirit has remained weeks after the disaster.
The first thing
you saw around you after the tornado was the concern people had for their
neighbors, says Meeks. The attitude and spirit of the people
are just incredible.