August 30, 2015

Missouri Task Force One leader remembers Hurricane Katrina

This week marks ten years since Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the gulf coast. Members of Missouri Task Force One were called in by the federal government and helped rescue victims, often by boat and often from homes. Approximately 80 members from Missouri helped with the hurricane efforts.

Missouri Task Force One members helping victims to safety during Hurricane Katrina

Missouri Task Force One members helping victims to safety during Hurricane Katrina

Task Force leader Doug Westhoff says he remembers the people who were helped.

“The heart of the people was probably one of the most notable things that sticks out in my mind. They were very appreciative of the efforts we were making and the efforts of the federal government,” said Westhoff. “It was a huge flood event that I don’t think anybody could anticipate. It was certainly a notable response that will probably never be replicated again in my career anyway.”

“Every time one of these events occur, there’s always an impact to humans. That’s always an emotional challenge for all of our responders,” said Westhoff.

Westhoff says the federal government was criticized for its response to the disaster, but he says that response was there early.

Aerial photo of Hurricane Katrina flooding

Aerial photo of Hurricane Katrina flooding

“Very few people knew that first responders had been moved in prior to the storm making landfall. That was never really reported,” said Westhoff. “It was very frustrating to us as first responders to be down there and engaging in activities sixteen hours a day and everything in the media that we were seeing had a negative connotation about the government’s response or lack thereof. We were down there beating our heads against the wall and working our rear ends off.”

At least 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent floods. The Hurricane was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, including more than $100 billion in total property damage.


El Nino expected to produce warmer than normal winter for the Midwest

A strong El Nino, characterized by warm water in the central and east-central Pacific Ocean, is expected to start in the fall.  National Weather Service Meteorologist Wes Browning says NOAA forecasters have updated the El Nino forecast, saying the weather pattern is strengthening.

Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service

Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service

“Normally a strong El Nino will last through the winter and on into the early spring before it starts to diminish,” says Browning.

He says that means the Midwest is expected to have warmer than normal temperatures this winter.

“For the Midwest, the affects usually aren’t that dramatic,” says Browning. “Normally, when we get a strong El Nino, the odds are that we will get fewer very intense arctic outbreaks. Now as far as precipitation, it doesn’t have much affect at all.”

Browning says he expects drier than normal conditions in the north near the Canadian border and very hazardous weather from southern California to the gulf coast. He says a strong El Nino in southern California can produce very heavy rain in a very short amount of time, possibly leading to flooding and mudslides.

NOAA forecasters update the El Nino weather pattern on the second Thursday of each month.

USDA will consider whether to add more Missouri counties to ag disaster declaration

Fifteen Missouri counties are included in an agriculture disaster declaration and USDA officials will decide if more should be added. FSA Administrator Val Dolcini says discussions will begin immediately.

FSA Administrator Val Dolcini

FSA Administrator Val Dolcini

“I’m going to be meeting with my Missouri State Executive Director. I want to talk to him about the local conditions on the ground there and what more we can do,” said Dolcini. “We’ve got to the bottom of the extent of the disaster and how it’s impacted farmers in Missouri.”

Excessive rain and flooding earlier this summer led to the declaration. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the designation, allowing farmers in the affected counties to qualify for low-interest loans and other federal assistance. Affected farmers can contact their local Farm Service Agency office for more information.

The 15 counties included under the designation are Cape Girardeau, Clark, Jefferson, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Mississippi, Perry, Pike, Ralls, St. Charles, Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis and Scott, as well as St. Louis City.


Major disaster declaration approved for 68 Missouri counties

President Barack Obama has approved Governor Jay Nixon’s request for a major disaster declaration. The declaration is in response to prolonged flash flooding and severe storms from May 15 to July 27. Local governments and nonprofit agencies in the 68 counties included in the declaration – the most for any disaster in Missouri since the Great Flood of 1993 – can seek federal assistance for response and recovery expenses associated with the flooding and severe weather.

Gov. Jay Nixon (D)

Gov. Jay Nixon (D)

“The prolonged severe weather system that repeatedly hit Missouri with flooding and severe storms caused an estimated $38 million in damage to roads, bridges and other public infrastructure and resulted in at least 10 deaths,” Nixon said. “This declaration will help bring much needed financial assistance to the many communities that have sustained excessive response costs and heavy damage to essential public infrastructure.”

The counties included in the federal public assistance disaster declaration are: Adair, Andrew, Atchison, Audrain, Barry, Bates, Benton, Buchanan, Caldwell, Chariton, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cole, Crawford, Dade, Dallas, Daviess, DeKalb, Douglas, Gentry, Harrison, Henry, Hickory, Holt, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Laclede, Lafayette, Lewis, Lincoln, Linn, Livingston, McDonald, Macon, Maries, Marion, Miller, Moniteau, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Osage, Ozark, Perry, Pettis, Pike, Platte, Polk, Putnam, Ralls, Ray, Ste. Genevieve, Saline, Schuyler, Scotland, Shannon, Shelby, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Texas, Washington, Webster, Worth and Wright.

Public assistance allows local governments and eligible nonprofit agencies to seek assistance for response and recovery expenses associated with the severe weather and flooding. The Governor said he will likely request that additional counties be added to the federal declaration.

The federal government said the Governor’s request seeking individual assistance for residents in Barry, Clay, Christian, Greene, Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Osage, Ray, Ste. Genevieve, Stone and Webster counties is under review. That request was made July 21.

Individual assistance means that eligible individuals and households can seek federal assistance for uninsured losses from severe weather and flooding.

Governor Nixon first declared a state of emergency in Missouri on June 18. The state of emergency has been extended until August 14.

Tornado confirmed in southeast Missouri Wednesday night

The National Weather Service has confirmed an EF-1 tornado did touch down in southeast Missouri during storms Wednesday night.

An EF-1 tornado collapsed this shed east of Kelso the evening of July 8, 2015.  (photo courtesy; National Weather Service)

An EF-1 tornado collapsed this shed east of Kelso the evening of July 8, 2015. (photo courtesy; National Weather Service)

The twister touched down about 1.5 miles east-southeast of Kelso at 8:35 and traveled 6.5 miles across the Mississippi River before lifting up east-northeast of Thebes, Illinois. Its winds reached an estimated 95 miles per hour.

The storm uprooted or snapped off trees and destroyed outbuildings including a large farm shed. It also rolled three camper trailers and blew shingles and siding off some homes.

A tornado was also confirmed to have touched down Wednesday near Caledonia, in eastern Missouri. The Weather Service received no reports of damage beyond that to some trees.