After 3 tornadoes strike KC area, residents question if sirens were used properly

Severe storm topples power poles in Leawood

A storm that brought tornadoes through the southern portion of the Kansas City metro area Wednesday evening knocked over power poles across Mission Road at 133rd Street in Leawood.
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A storm that brought tornadoes through the southern portion of the Kansas City metro area Wednesday evening knocked over power poles across Mission Road at 133rd Street in Leawood.

Officials have confirmed that three tornadoes struck the Kansas City area during Wednesday night's severe storms.

The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill reported that an EF-1 tornado touched down in Johnson County, followed by EF-0 tornadoes in Belton and Raytown.

Yet some residents in the affected areas reported that their sirens never sounded.

And miles away, in areas not under tornado warnings, residents questioned why sirens were wailing.

It started with a tornado at 9:09 p.m. Wednesday in south Overland Park, near Stanley. The twister moved northeast 4.7 miles, ending in Leawood at 9:17 p.m., the National Weather Service said Thursday. The EF-1 had winds that peaked at 98 mph.

Johnson County officials said the tornado caused minor damage to structures, trees and power lines. The weather service said more than 100 healthy trees were reported damaged. Trees up to 22 inches in diameter were snapped.

Next, the weather service said, an EF-0 tornado touched down in Belton at 9:22 p.m. and ended within the minute. Winds peaked at 80 mph.

At 9:28 p.m., a third tornado, another EF-0 that lasted about a minute, appeared in Raytown, with peak winds of 84 mph, the weather service reported.

No injuries were reported. "EF" stands for Enhanced Fujita scale, which measures tornadoes' intensity and damage.

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Graclyn Fikki, 8, of Lee's Summit was in awe after looking at the huge oak tree that fell into her aunt's house Wednesday night in Raytown. Mikaela Brooke, the homeowner, said five people escaped the house unharmed after the tree, which was thought to be a 200-year-old oak, crashed into the house around 9:30 p.m. near 81st Terrace and Raytown Road as a storm moved through Raytown. Tammy Ljungblad

"The two tornado warnings we had last night in Johnson County were our first since 2015," Dan Robeson, deputy director of the Johnson County Emergency Management department, said Thursday.

County officials received some reports of sirens not sounding in affected areas and reported those to siren vendors to determine if there were problems. Officials also received questions about NotifyJoCo alerts, but said the system operated correctly and only notified residents who were under tornado warnings.

Meanwhile, sirens sounded in Kansas City's Northland even though the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill had not issued a tornado warning for Clay or Platte counties, city officials acknowledged Thursday.

The decision was made out of an abundance of caution during a fluid weather situation.

"I don't want to be the guy who didn't warn our residents," City Manager Troy Schulte said.

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Still, the Clay County Sheriff's Department tweeted at 9:17 p.m. that the sirens were not for the county's residents.

"Folks inside KCMO may hear them, the city of KCMO controls theirs," the tweet said. "Currently no tornado warning in Clay County."

Jenni Laflin, a meteorologist with the Pleasant Hill weather service in Cass County, said the agency has not changed its criteria for issuing tornado watches or warnings and there has been no recent change in the technology used to make those decisions. Localities are in charge of activating warning sirens, she said.

Schulte said the decision to activate Kansas City's sirens was based on information provided by the weather service by an internal radio service monitored by emergency management teams across the area. The city said the information indicated the fast-moving storm could be a wider threat.

"Our policy is to start citywide and then scale back if needed," Schulte said.

Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms. Get prepared and by knowing what to do before a tornado strikes. Doing so could help save lives.