Tag Archives: Tornadoes

2014 NWS Storm Spotter Talks Announced

The National Weather Service in Topeka has announced the dates and locations for this year’s storm spotter and weather safety talks. The presentations are a great way to learn about how to visually identify potentially dangerous storms, develop a safety plan, and understand the role of meteorologists and local emergency personnel when bad weather strikes. Even if you’ve attended an NWS presentation before, it’s worth going again: the field of meteorology and emergency management is constantly changing as technology develops.

Other states offer storm spotter programs, too. Check with your local links for presentations in your area.

2014 Kansas Schedule

St. Patrick’s Church: How the Emerald Isle ended up in the middle of the nation’s most landlocked state

Three days each week, our travels take us down Old U.S. Highway 50 past a sign.  “St. Patrick’s Church. Emerald Parish. 6 1/2 miles south.” After passing by at least a dozen times, my husband and I gave in to the urge to follow it and turned south.

The sign drawing in visitors from Old U.S. Highway 50.

“Has it been six and a half miles yet?” I asked as we drove down a country road, with only a handful of farm houses in sight.

“I have no idea,” Jim said. “I’m not even sure what county we’re in.”

Suddenly, our road intersected Kansas Highway 31 at an angle and we were looking at a steep hill.

“You think it’s up there?” I said, doubtfully.

“Let’s go see,” Jim said. And we climbed the hill to find one of the most spectacular overlooks in central Kansas.

We were, in fact, in Anderson County. Belying its idyllic appearance is a county whose people and history are a touch contrary and more than a little accomplished. Named for attorney Joseph C. Anderson, a leader in the “bogus”  pro-slavery legislature that attempted to take control of Kansas, the county would as claim its own one Dr. J. G. Blunt, who, as a major general, was the highest ranking member of the Union army to settle in Kansas. The county would also be the birth place of Edgar Lee Masters, author of the Spoon River Anthology, and Dr. Martha E. Cunningham, one of the first women doctors in the state. And yet, the southeast corner of the county was known to be a hiding place for border ruffians during the Civil War and Jesse James thereafter. It is also believed that the first-ever picture of a tornado was shot from Anderson County.

But this was all in Anderson County’s future. In 1857, when Irish transplant John McManus was looking for somewhere to claim for his family, he saw the cheap land and excellent soil and staked a claim near the Ionthe Creek in Reeder Township.

At the top of the hill with its breathtaking panoramic view was a brick, Romanesque church.

St. Patrick’s Church, built in 1899.

“It’s almost all alone up here,” I said, seeing only a decrepit building next to the church.

Yet the church was maintained and, other than the fact that its bell tower had been removed, appeared to still be in use.

The McManus family was followed by a wave of others who made their way west after immigrating from Ireland, many from North Ulster. Soon names like Doolin, Collins, McEvoy, Glennan, McElroy, Cristy, McGrath, Reddington, Fitzgerald, Sullivan, McLindon, Campbell, and Grant populated the area. After the Civil War, the Fay, McGlinchy, Cotter, Swallow, Benedum, Hagan, McGlinn, Mooney, and O’Neill families settled into the highest eminence of Anderson County.

Many of the monuments at St. Patrick’s Cemetery attest to the Irish roots of Emerald’s original inhabitants.

“They built log houses, danced and were happy in a land of boundless opportunities where they were the landlords instead of the tenants as they had been in Ireland,” Harry Johnson wrote in 1936 in his History of Anderson County Kansas.

The Irish settlement, which spread into nearby Coffey and Franklin counties, did prosper. By 1870, they had outgrown the first church and replaced it with a structure built from locally quarried stone. In 1899, they replaced the stone church with the brick Romanesque building that is said to have been decorated by artists from Luxemburg.

“One of the finest church edifices in Kansas,” Johnson wrote, “…this brick structure, built Roman style, forms the nucleus of the Emerald settlement today.”

The area became known as Emerald, and with no town per se, the church, which stood at the settlement’s highest point, served as a beacon to the community’s Roman Catholic population.

“Look at this cemetery,” Jim said as we walked behind the church. At a glance, it was clear that we were seeing a prosperous community who could afford substantial monuments to honor their dead. Some family stones were adorned with statues eight feet tall, artistry infused with enough emotion to take your breath away.

The monument honoring the Collins family in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.

McGlinchy Angel

A close-up of the angel that stands eight feet tall over the five-foot base of the McGlinchy family monument.

By World War I, Emerald was home to 75 families, and its schools (the final building, St. Patrick’s School, is the empty structure next to the church) produced five lawyers, two doctors, numerous nurses and teachers, and a member of the Kansas Authors Club. Eighteen men from the area would serve in the Great War, two losing their lives.

Then, like so many other rural areas in Kansas, the settlement experienced a population decline beginning during the 1930s. The number of local families dropped to 48, with a slight resurgence after World War II. Despite the decline, many with Irish roots still call this area home, and the church and cemetery are still in use. While the bell was removed from the church roof during the 1990s, it is preserved at the entrance to the cemetery, where visitors can activate the clapper, causing it to resonate a deep, rich sound that can be heard for miles.

At a time when so many Roman Catholic churches are closing their doors due to financial shortfalls and a shortage of clergy, St. Patrick’s Church continues to serve the community of Emerald. Though the settlement may only be a shadow of its former self, at five o’clock each Saturday evening, the church that otherwise sits quietly on the hill is renewed with members from the surrounding farms and ranches.

Panoramic View Emerald Kansas

It took 10 snapshots to build a panoramic view of the sweeping countryside east of the steps of St. Patrick’s Church in Emerald, Kansas.

Alabama tornado survivors three months later: home is where the Weavers are

During the past three months, many readers from all over the world have stopped in at my blog to read up on the Weavers, a family who made an unexpected trip down the yellow brick road this spring when a tornado destroyed their Alabama home on April 27, 2011. Their story, which I first wrote about here, tugged at many hearts, especially for those of us who are animal people and have strong bonds to our pets. We shared their grief and their joy.

This is the story of how they continue to heal, three months after one of the worst storms in Alabama’s history changed everything.

Ten adorable baby ratties are trying out one of their very first grown-up meals: a plate of spaghetti.  Julie steps right onto the plate.  George meticulously nibbles on a single kernel of corn. Hannah eats a noodle from beginning to end. Now 21 days old, these Fourth of July babies were part of the package when the Weaver family adopted three rats, one of whom was pregnant, from nearly 200 abandoned pets at the Mainely Rat Rescue.

It’s three months later. It’s not the same, but the Weavers are slowly rebuilding their lives, reestablishing what it means to have a home. Coziness. Comfort. A sense of safety. And lots of loving pets.

Three of the newest members of the Weaver household: baby ratties George, Hannah and Dolley play in a soda box during their very first floor time. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

The first two weeks were overwhelming in their immediacy. Shock. Pain. Grief for all that was lost, especially so many of their beloved guinea pigs and rats. Needing clothes to wear the next day, food for the family, a place to sleep. Injuries to recover from. They needed to replace their vehicles and finish cleaning their land. As time passed, the initial trauma gave way to the long-term questions. Where would they go? Could they rebuild? Did they want to start over somewhere new?

The Weavers were starting over from scratch.

It was different than moving away from home for the first time. When you left home, you had your clothes, a few pieces of furniture, and those tangible little things that you cherished as your own. But this was worse. As they sorted through their belongings, they learned the hard way that in addition to losing their pets, they lost many of those treasured things. “I know it’s just stuff,” Marsha wrote, “[but] it means something to me.” The worst part was that unlike when they left home, they didn’t get to pick what survived. The rocking chair Marsha held her children in when they were babies, Doug’s very first mother’s day present to her, vanished. The handful of Doug’s late mother’s things were also gone. All of the family videos were destroyed. “It’s strange to know you had those items,” Marsha wrote, “and poof, they are just gone.”

Some special things did survive.  Marsha’s cedar chest, a gift from her parents, was damaged and could not be saved, but many of the contents could. Her own Christening gown. The outfits her children wore when they came home from the hospital for the first time.

Yet while so many items were missing or destroyed, the compost heap of guinea pig litter remained completely intact, proving what all guinea pig owners already know: guinea pig poop is completely indestructible. “Obviously,” Marsha wrote with humor, “the tornado could not find a use for it either!”

The surviving pets are settling into their apartment surroundings, even if they are a bit less spacious than the old house. The four surviving guinea pigs, Allie-Belle, Holly, Jasmine, and Emma, are learning to share a cage. Shelby, the dog who survived surgery by flashlight, is coping with hiking the stairs to a second floor apartment.

Allie-Belle, Jasmine, Emma and Holly line up for one of the first family portraits shot by Marsha since the storm. Photo by Marsha Weaver.

Of the five surviving rats, two had a difficult time. Olivia, the little girl who was found more than two days after the tornado, continues to struggle with asthma.

Sweet old Wesley, the elderly rat who wasn’t expected to survive at all, lasted long enough to help his humans and rattie friends through the worst of the aftermath before his own health failed and he crossed the rainbow bridge.

Still grieving, but so full of love and compassion, the Weavers opened their home to new critters, sweet little rats they could love and cherish. The Weavers needed them as much as the rats needed the Weavers. New life, new discoveries, new joys. Not the same as before, but still beautiful. Still important.

Every day after the tornado has been a marathon. Balancing what absolutely needs to be done while establishing a new sense of normalcy takes strength and courage. Overwhelming amounts of paperwork. Arranging to have temporary electrical service at the damaged property. Turning in rental cars. Making list after list after list of everything they can ever remember owning for the insurance company while getting dinner on the table and picking the kids up from school.

One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. Some days are better than others. Other days, like when news spread of the disasters in Reading, Kansas and Joplin, Missouri,  and the sirens went off in Alabama–those days were hard.

Marsha had never intended to gussy up the apartment.

But the Weavers are nesters, and as the weeks passed, Marsha knew it needed to be their special place, even if it was only for a little while and it had to be done on a very tight budget. A few decorative pillows, a rooster canister set. These little touches made their temporary space cozy. Even more, it gave them some control over their lives.

The Weavers want a home of their own again. They don’t know where that home will be yet. Some days, they’re sure they want to rebuild, better than before, complete with a storm shelter and emergency lighting. Other days, they visit their lot and see the homes to which their neighbors never returned, and they aren’t so sure. They’ll have to decide soon, but not yet.

For now, the Weavers have each other and their strengthened ties with family and friends. The Cozy Cavy has not yet reopened for business, but nearly 1,500 people share in the ups and downs of post-tornado life with Marsha and her family at the Cozy Cavy Facebook page, and thousands more connect with her through GuineaLynx.

During a shopping trip for towels, Marsha picked up a framed picture and hung it on her apartment wall. The words on the sampler epitomize the courage and heart that is integral to being a Weaver:

Having a place to go is HOME

Having someone to love is FAMILY

Having both is a BLESSING.

The Weaver family is proof that despite horrible loss, there is hope, and that every day is full of little miracles.

Featured in Guinea Pig Magazine: The Weaver Tornado Survivors

Many guinea pig and rat fans (as well as animal lovers in general) have stopped by this web site to read up on the Weaver family, who lost their home and many of their pets during the April 27, 2011 Alabama tornado. Moved by the Weavers’ story and their heroic efforts to save as many of their pets as possible, Guinea Pig Magazine has included a four-page feature story in their July/August 2011 issue. In addition to excerpting my blog, Guinea Pig Magazine has also included an entire section on disaster preparedness for guinea pigs: transportation, food, housing, health care, and emergency contact information.

While the Weavers could not have done more to protect themselves in the circumstances they faced, it’s never too early for the rest of us to consider ways we can better prepare for emergencies.

Storms too close to home

Saturday evening, I stood at my back door, cringing each time a golf ball-sized ball of hail enthusiastically bounced off the hood of my car. When the hail storm passed, my husband and I went out to examine the damage.

“Look at the clouds,” he said, and we stared at the sky.

The clouds were flying, fluid, a river of clouds churning to life.

I ran back in the house to get my camera. As the sun set, I managed only one semi-focused shot of the wall cloud dropping out of the sky.

Wall Cloud over Emporia, Kansas

Wall cloud forming over Emporia, Kansas. The setting sun, gusting wind, and lack of tripod made for a not-so-impressive photo, but it's my photo.

The sirens sounded moments later.

It has only been a month since our online community friends, the Weavers, suffered their own tremendous losses during the April 27, 2011 Alabama tornado. Saturday night, we were hunkered down in our own basement, with our own guinea pigs, hoping this storm would blow past us.

Saturday night we were lucky. Our neighbors in Reading, Kansas, to the northeast, were not.

And less than 24 hours later, Mother Nature kicked more sand in our faces by ripping through Joplin, Missouri.

I’m not quite ready to talk about what it was like to listen to police scanners and amateur radio operators and Twitter feeds give a blow-by-blow of the aftermath, or about the tremendous sadness I felt as local radio station KVOE AM announced that the post office and volunteer fire department were hit, the grain silo was destroyed, the heart of the town was gutted.

It still makes makes me a little weepy.

But I do want to talk about how completely humbled I am by human generosity.

I want to talk about how within minutes of the Reading tornado, Jeremy Luby, a former Reading resident, set up a Facebook page. The next day, Luby set up a more formal web site where people could find information about survivors, volunteering to help clean up the town, and how to make donations. The Emporia Gazette constantly updated their web page with the latest information for survivors and those who wanted to help.

I want to talk about how people all over the state of Kansas collected emergency supplies, and still others, including the Kansas State Animal Response Team, took care of the family pets.

I want to talk about how Emporians, dressed in work clothes and work gloves and carrying bottles of water, boarded a bus to help clean Reading as soon our Lyon County’s rather amazing emergency management team gave them the go-ahead.

Because it was the right thing to do.

The tornado may leave scars. The community support will make sure the wounds heal.