Theresa Freed 00:00
It's been a long winter but spring is just around the corner with warmer weather comes the risk of severe storms on this episode here how you can be prepared for tornadoes and other natural disasters.
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed 00:25
Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Living in Kansas can mean drastic changes in the weather in a short period of time. So although we recently saw a pretty serious winter storm, with sub zero temperatures, a very different situation this week. And as we make our way into spring, we can expect to start seeing some rain and thunderstorms. Johnson County is ready. Here with me today, Trent Pittman with our emergency management and communications division and Andy Bailey, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service. First off, can you just both talk about how the county and our whole region actually, you know, prepares for severe weather.
Andy Bailey 01:08
As Theresa mentioned, I work with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill. And we cover all of Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. And we have severe weather preparedness week, March 1st through 5th of this year. And that's really the week that we use to really kick off preparedness for severe thunderstorms, flash flooding, and of course tornadoes. What we ask people to do is to first of all make a plan. Talk with their if they don't have a plan at work, talk with your co workers about where will we go when severe weather strikes? How will we receive our warnings, and then at home have that same conversation whether it's around the dinner table at night, with everybody there just Hey, when a tornado warnings issued, we're going to go down in this part of the basement and you just go do that. The also the other thing that might be good to do I have to do it every year is to get out of there and make sure my tornado shelter is clean and that my basement didn't accumulate boxes over the winter. And certainly after a pretty slow severe weather season last year, it probably warrants looking at again, Trent's laughing, but it's the truth. So um, we were going to have we are actually going to have a live tornado drill. On Tuesday morning, March 2, at 10am. You'll probably hear storm sirens going off, weather radios will go off, you may hear the TV stations do the EAS tones with the crawl messages. And what we're asking people may be a little bit different than we have in years past and years past we have said use this drill as an opportunity to go shelter just as you would with real severe weather. Were it a real tornado this year with the pandemic still going on. We're telling people maybe instead of crowding all of your co workers into one small room, maybe it's better do what we call a tabletop exercise and just talk about, okay, when the warning is issued, here's where we're going to go. And you could probably do it in a socially responsible way and do it just a few people at a time. Just to make sure everybody's aware where the shelter's at how they're going to receive the alert, that sort of thing. So maybe just a little bit different this year have a little bit different feel, but it's still achievable, and still will help everyone understand what they need to do once those warnings are issued.
Theresa Freed 03:18
All right, Trent, if you want to talk about what Johnson County's doing in coordination with that?
Trent Pittman 03:24
Johnson County will be observing the severe weather preparedness week also March 1st through the 5th. And in coordination with the National Weather Service, we will be participating in the statewide tornado drill with an activation of the outdoor warning sirens on Tuesday, March 2 at 10am. That test will be in addition to the regularly scheduled Wednesday 11am tests that we'll be doing the following day. So we'll have two tests that week, weather permitting. In addition to the activation and the warning sirens, we will also be doing the county wide test of the mass notification system NotifyJoCo, especially on that angle, we're encouraging everyone to take some time this week, and over the weekend to update your information at NotifyJoCo, maybe you've moved the update your address, maybe you have a new phone number to add in there. It's always a good opportunity to take to make sure that you can update that information to make sure you can receive the test. So you can receive those emergency alerts when an actual emergency occurs.
Theresa Freed 04:35
All right, can you talk a little bit more about what exactly is NotifyJoCo and how people get signed up for that?
Trent Pittman 04:41
Yeah, NotifyJoCo is Johnson County's mass emergency notification system. It's a partnership with a number of jurisdictions and departments across Johnson County. That we encourage everyone in Johnson County to take some time opt into the system, you can go to NotifyJoCo.org and register, and put phone numbers and addresses in there for the different locations in Johnson County to make sure you can receive those emergency alerts for those areas. A good example is maybe to put your home address in maybe your child's school address, as well as the work address. I know a lot of us are working at home right now. But it's always important. Make sure you get those alerts wherever you are working. So you can receive those emergency alerts as well, not just the ones that
Andy Bailey 05:31
Can I interrupt to ask a quick question about that?
Trent Pittman 05:33
Andy Bailey 05:34
Will that alert you just for the locations that you enter in, like, you know, if there's a warning that's not part of your county, will it just single out your part of the county?
Trent Pittman 05:43
Yes, as long it's a polygon, or polygon based warning, when you sign up for that, it will just alert you if you are in that polygon.
Andy Bailey 05:52
That's awesome that yeah, this is unscripted, but I would totally encourage everybody to do that. Because that is the best way to get your warnings, because you're not going to be woken up by stuff that doesn't apply to you maybe on the other side of the county or something so cool.
Trent Pittman 06:05
It's pretty slick.
Theresa Freed 06:06
Very good information. And it's not just severe weather necessarily that you will get notifications about you can sign up for different kinds of notifications. So do you want to talk about that, too. While we're on that topic? Trent? Yeah.
Trent Pittman 06:18
Another popular one that people sign up for a lot is public safety. notifications, you know, if if something is happening, and local police and Sheriff's Office need to contact you about a public safety issue that's kind of specific to your neighborhood or several neighborhoods, they can actually get into the system to a more localized polygon. And then only those residents who have opted in and are identified in that area will receive that that notification.
Theresa Freed 06:48
All right, great information. And of course, there's more on that website if you want more details about that system. So Andy, as you mentioned, last year, we didn't here have a terribly hectic storm season. Can you talk a little bit about how that compared to previous years?
Andy Bailey 07:05
Yeah, well, you know, we don't have to go too far back prior to last year to talk about some big tornadoes. In fact, if folks remember, it was May 28 of 2019, we had the tornado that moved from just south southwest of Lawrence to Linwood, Kansas, and really lifted just to the northwest of Johnson County. That thing was a monster. And we were while it was devastating while it was on the ground, we were really quite lucky. It didn't stay on the ground and track all the way through Kansas City metropolitan area, it did drop another tornado that storm did kind of up in the Kearnt area, maybe an hour and a half or so after it had lifted in Kansas. And you know, that thing was a monster EF-4 tornado, it was wrapped in rain, you couldn't see it come at you. It just looked like a wall of water coming at you. And it really highlights the importance of having ways to receive warnings because you couldn't go outside and actually see the tornado in most instances. You know, that was that really capped off a year of intense river flooding. That was there was horrendous flooding all over eastern Kansas. From the rains that we had, it was just a very active severe weather season. So it was honestly quite nice to have a breather from it in 2020. But yeah, typically, I mean, anybody that's lived in Kansas for any period of time knows that tornadoes are to be expected, and we should be planning for them. So even though we had a quiet year last year, we really do need to prepare for them as if we are expecting them again this year, because it's Kansas, it's good.
Theresa Freed 08:40
Yeah. And it was kind of nice to have a breather from the severe weather, especially with the pandemic. So many people were focused on that and probably felt like we've had enough. You know, we don't need anything more on top of this. So yeah, that was a, that was a nice break. But if you don't practice those skills of running down to a basement and having flashlights and things like that all ready to go, then you can, you know, it'll be here before you know it, you're not ready usually activate
Trent Pittman 09:06
The County Emergency Operations Center for severe weather eight to 10 times a year. And last year, we had to activate it a single time in May. And I don't believe Andy, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe we had a single tornado watch. Wow.
Andy Bailey 09:21
Yeah. I don't know about watching that out of the seven Kansas counties. We work four. We didn't have any tornadoes in any of those counties last year. pretty unusual.
Theresa Freed 09:28
Yeah. That's amazing. That's amazing. Well, another way that we definitely prepare in the county and in the region is is relying on our storm spotters and getting them up to date on the latest there as well. And I know that training looked a lot different or is looking a lot different this year. Can you talk about that?
Trent Pittman 09:47
I know our storm spotters in Johnson County, the organization we work with Johnson County ECS. They participated. It was a great, great opportunity to kind of get back into the swing of severe weather because like we just touched on last year was kind of a kind of a quiet year, abnormally quiet to the extreme last year. So, you know, and then we've all been focused on on this pandemic issue that we've had for the past year now. And, you know, we got, we got lucky last year with the quiet severe weather. So you know, getting back into being prepared for severe weather and how we're going to operate. Severe weather operations even during the pandemic has been fascinating. And Andy's presentation did a great job getting us back into getting us back into the swing of things for that.
Andy Bailey 10:36
You know, normally, we go to 30 or so different sites around our forecast area, in the 44 counties that we warn for every spring and deliver in-person training, it's usually a couple hours long. And we ask our counties that really restrict it to just their core spotting groups. It's not for the general public, it's for the spotter networks that the counties maintain. And that's really our most effective way to do the training. But clearly, with the pandemic going on, my agency doesn't allow me to go out and to conduct training like that. We're taking extraordinary precautions to limit the impact of COVID on our office. And so we had to come up with another way. So we we are conducting virtual training sessions at eight, eight different days, really once a week for eight weeks in February and March. And Johnson County, I believe sat in our first one in the first week in February. And we always enjoy doing the spotter training at Johnson County for a couple of reasons. A: they are Johnson County is among our best prepared when it comes to managing spotters. So Trent and his folks do a fantastic job of working with the ECS group, there's a lot of training, they have a very rigid and rigorous set of criteria they have to meet in order to be accepted into the into the spotting group. But then when we go out and deliver the training to that group, these are folks that have been to the training 15-20 years, some of them. And they know a great deal about meteorology. So it's always fun. talking to a group like that, that has such a depth of knowledge, such a depth of experience going out spotting storms, they've seen pretty much everything. And so our goal in those sessions, especially with Johnson County is still to get them maybe to learn something new every year. And so that's really our goal every year that we instruct at Johnson County, but this year, it was different. It was virtual had to be virtual. It wasn't our favorite way to do it. But we'll be back next year. I'm quite confident.
Theresa Freed 12:34
And can you talk a little too about that group of people that these are volunteers who just happen to have a an interest in a skill or passion for for severe weather? Is that right?
Trent Pittman 12:45
Yeah, our relationship with Johnson County ECS goes back decades where we work with this group. We trained with this group. And like I said, we activate the EOC for severe weather. And that's that's the group we rely on. We usually have around two people that come in to the office during severe weather, those are called our net controllers. They're coordinating with the spotters who are out in the field, we get anywhere between five or six on some some of those short notice events to you know, they like May 28, where we could put 20 people out in the field. And those people are using ham radios to communicate back with the net controllers in the EOC what they're seeing and what they're seeing out in the field. Andy mentioned that on May 28, a tornado fortunately, missed Johnson County missed it by about 200 yards when we went out to just to make sure that, you know, we weren't missing anything out there the next day. And what was fascinating is during that event, while the tornado never made it into Johnson County, Andy had had a great point. It was so close, we actually had three of our storm spotters who were able to see it. They were just sitting there, just south of the storm itself. And we're able to look up north into it. I think I think we had three just in the DeSoto area, that were able to look up north and see that so those guys provide us, you know, a valuable service. Able to you know, corroborate what Andy's group is seeing on the radar. And just give everyone a greater picture of what's going on because if they send us a storm report, the spotters, that is you know, we're able to work with Andy's group. And able we have multiple ways of sending them that storm report you know, whether it's through chat service, or or over the digital radio, we can send them that storm report to give them a better idea of what the storm is doing on the ground.
Theresa Freed 14:52
That's great. It's such an important part of of all of this like having those those eyes on the ground and then also Having that expertise, you know, in an emergency situation, looking at radar and whatnot, so everybody's informed and has as much advance notice as possible so that they can take shelter. I don't want to miss the the, the most important information really for our listeners is, what do they do? And when do they do it? So can you talk about, you know, whether it's sitting there watching television and seeing it a storm approach? How quickly do you need to take shelter? And what's the best form of shelter for you and your family?
Andy Bailey 15:32
Okay, yeah, I'll take that. First thing they need to do is in you know it, like I mentioned before, it's Kansas, we need to expect severe weather throughout the spring and summer months. First thing they need to do is they should just check the forecast every single day. They could be drinking their morning cup of coffee and get an idea or thunderstorms forecast today. If so, about when Is there a risk of severe weather? Do I need to be concerned with that? And then if there is a risk of severe weather, they should have their means of receiving that warning, whether it's through what do you call it JoCo...
Trent Pittman 16:01
Andy Bailey 16:02
NotifyJoCo on their cell phone, right, they need to have that whether if it's weather radio, they need to make sure that's functioning, they need to have a way to receive the warnings, when the warnings are issued, or when it's time to seek shelter. Now maybe the storm is still 20 minutes away from them. It's not the time to grab your phone, run outside, take pictures of it, you need to get your shelter immediately. And the types of shelter we tell people if they have a basement, get to the basement, get under something sturdy, it might be the stairwell it might be a workbench might be a pool table, and stay there until the storm has passed. If you don't have a basement, get to the lowest level of the structure you're in to an interior room, preferably something without windows, maybe a closet or a bathroom. And stay there until the storm has passed just like in the basement and a lot of people will say, Well, if I had that tornado that hit Lynwood two years ago and asked for I saw some of those houses were just gone. I'm not gonna stay in my house, I'm if I know there's that big, I'm gonna get my car and drive away. It's really a bad idea what they found in down in Moore, Oklahoma, where they've been hit by three F5 tornadoes in the last two decades, that that almost nobody has basements down there. And even people without storm shelters survived by getting to the interior room without windows and getting as low as possible. Maybe they're pulling a mattress off the bed or cushions off the couch using it to kind of protect them from the debris that even in our most devastating tornado seeking shelter in the proper way, is your best option. You don't want to try to outrun it dry out, drive it whatever, there's a good chance you're going to get stuck in traffic or, or not making your odds of dying go way up if you're in your car, as opposed to being at home shelter.
Theresa Freed 17:48
Now there are things that you should keep, you know, in your shelter your basement, in case there is a tornado. So I've heard things like making sure you have shoes because there could be debris, things like that water or any other supplies that you would recommend.
Andy Bailey 18:02
Trent may want to talk about this as well. But I would say definitely the shoes are often overlooked. If you're going down there in the middle of the night, maybe your weather radio, or your phone woke you up and let you know about the tornado good chance you're gonna go down to your shelter barefoot. If you have some old tennis shoes, or old shoes of any kind, you're going to be so glad you have them to put on if you have to walk up onto the debris. Second thing is it's helpful if you have a radio down there, whether it's an am FM radio or preferably a weather radio so you can get updates as to where the storms are at and where they're moving. Certainly a couple of flashlights are also handy. More times than not I mean, you're talking shelter in a matter of minutes. I don't think I'd be all that concerned in my home about stockpiling water and food because you kn ow if Yeah, I'm not going to be stuck in buried in the debris for like eight days, like a third world country after an earthquake. And that's not really reality here. So the main thing it would be is how to get how are you going to stay abreast of current information? Do you have a way to see if it's dark? And are you going to be properly protected? If you have to walk up out of there? that's those are the things I would be concerned with in the shelter?
Trent Pittman 19:14
Yeah, most definitely. Uh, you know, I'd just follow what Andy said, you know, especially the issue, though, of the sheltering, overnight, you know, if it's, if it's during the evening or during the day, a lot of times people will be more up to speed with the ongoing situation. You know, if there's a storm that's out west of them and headed this way, they'll they'll be able to note or they'll be able to, you know, see that whether it's on local media, you know, or on social media, they'll be more aware of that storm. It's during those shorter notice events where, you know, you're alerted when your weather radio goes off, and you just have short amount of time to grab your phone on your nightstand. Wait, wake the kid up, grab the dog, and go downstairs. That's really those events, you know that you want to have that extra old pair of shoes. In the basement, so you're not having to go back up and grab stuff over and over again. And Andy brought up a great point, it's, you know, the things you want to have in the basement, or in your shelter are really that ability to generate light flashlights. You know, if you have kind of an old, more disposable cell phone charger, those are great to have, especially if you lose power during an event, just make sure you keep your cell phone charged up. And, you know, preparedness looks different to other people, you know, there are some people that you know, that have their three days, their 72 hours of food, water and all that stuff, you know, that that's not necessarily what everyone needs, in their purse or in their shelter. A lot of times, you know, that's we encourage everyone to have those that 72 hours of food and water in their house, but doesn't necessarily mean like Andy said that you need to have it, you know, down in your shelter, rotate that food through. Because you know, if your house was impacted, especially by severe weather, you know, that's that's more of an event of hours, rather than rather than days for that immediate recovery response period. So the flashlight way to charge your cell phone, or make sure your cell phones fully charged in that event. shoes and just some other physical protective items are great to have in your shelter.
Theresa Freed 21:22
All right, that's great information. And I noticed that, you know, the National Weather Service is very active on social media. So I know we certainly follow you all and share your messages and information. Especially when when there are storms approaching. So any other place, you would recommend that our listeners go to get more information about preparing for severe weather?
Andy Bailey 21:41
I would tell your listeners that they can search us on Twitter and Facebook to search for National Weather Service Kansas City. And we're going to be sending a lot of information out during severe weather preparedness week, certainly March 1 through fifth. You can also go to our website, which is weather.gov/KC for Kansas City and get the latest forecasts. But there's also a link at the top of the page talking that goes directly to a Severe Weather Awareness information.
Trent Pittman 22:08
It's a COVID specific issue that's come up. And I just wanted to take a second and maybe Andy will reiterate it a little bit to that during an actual severe weather emergencies, such as a tornado warning, even during COVID-19 it's important to remember to still take shelter, following the COVID safety protocols as best as possible. You know, when you're in your household, it's not as big of a concern. But you know, when that tornado warning actually occurs, it's important to remember that maybe you know, to take your mask hand sanitizer with you but to actually seek shelter, you know, during the off chance that that that tornado warning actually occurs.
Andy Bailey 22:48
Yeah, Tren's absoultey right. You ran the risk between the tornado and catching COVID I'll take that chance and, and get in the shelter and stay safe from that tornado for sure.
Trent Pittman 22:57
And that's kind of what we're encouraging businesses and organizations to do during Severe Weather Awareness because like Andy said, it doesn't necessarily make sense, you know, to empty an entire building right now down into their severe weather shelter. But for some of those safety planners for different organizations, you know, it's a great time for them to review those plans and to incorporate COVID safety protocols into into their sheltering plans. Maybe that's having extra few extra cases of disposable masks in their shelters. So when you know if someone didn't have a mask with them, masks could be handed out making sure that those that those locations have the ability as best as possible to socially distance when you're in there. And that's a great idea. I mean, great reminder to have that weather radio for you. So when you know the when the warning clears that people can get back out of there as quick as possible. Try to spend as little time in there as possible. But it is important to remember that when that you know when that warning happens that we that we do need to seek shelter during that time still.
Theresa Freed 24:07
Great information for sure. All right, well, thank you both again, and thank you for listening.
You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening