We all know how a tornado happens, two opposite air temperatures collide producing what they call in the insurance world, “an act of God.” Jefferson City experienced an act of God in more ways than one this May.
As tornado sirens rang out, Jefferson City families slowly rolled out of their beds to their safe places. “Tornadoes never hit Jefferson City, we have too many hills.” Something many of us have said, but tonight would be the last time.
On may 22, 2019 At 11:43 PM, a 160 MPH wind, category EF3 tornado ravaged Jefferson City. It was official, Jefferson City had been hit by its first ever tornado.
According to NOAA’s Storm Events Database, the strongest tornadoes to hit Cole County were a pair of EF2 tornadoes on May 12, 1980 and October 3, 1986. Neither of which had damage in Jefferson City.
At daybreak, the effects of the tornado were truly realized. Three square miles were affected with 32 injuries, 175 damaged buildings, 94 buildings completely destroyed and, amazingly, no fatalities.
One of the hardest hit areas was along Capitol Avenue, a historic conservation district made possible by the efforts of countless residents. Normally, when driving down the streets of Jefferson City, it’s tough not to find yourself rubbernecking at what you see. The beauty of the architecture and noticeable history are something that make this city unique. However, in morning’s light, residents picked up the remains of their homes and businesses, analyzing the damage to some of Jefferson City’s oldest and most historic structures. What had taken years to restore with a lot of money, blood, sweat and tears was just gone in a few moments.
In spite of the devastation, the community came together as one. Crews wrapped caution tape surrounded the Missouri State Penitentiary’s damaged historic wall. Across the street, men worked to remove trees that fell at the Marmaduke House, home to the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Nearby, men tossed plywood onto the roof of Tyler M. Woods Funeral Director and began boarding up the busted-out windows, including a 125-year-old stained glass window that was a gift to the builder in 1900. Volunteers carefully carried out furniture and helped salvage belongings from damaged homes.
The Chamber had multitudes of calls from out-of-town and out-of-state volunteers looking to be dispatched, residents lined up at the Volunteer Reception Center ready to help, and local businesses posted up on the streets serving food and drink to those affected. Fundraisers sprang up all over social media and people gave from their hearts.
This tragedy gave each and every one of us a reason to help a stranger in need.
The real story here isn’t the tornado – it’s the community that emerged. Our community should truly be proud of what we’ve become. As a whirlwind of [literally] negative energy tore through our community, the positive energy prevailed.
We will remember the impact of the tornado as a turning point for our community. Now, we are #JCSTRONG[ER] than before.
- This tornado occurred exactly 8 years after one of the deadliest, most destructive tornadoes in American history hit in Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people.
- The City of Jefferson removed 2,600 dump truck loads of vegetative debris and 270 dump truck loads of non-vegetative debris (as of 6/14/19).
- The tornado had a 19.38 mile path.
In the first 7 hours after the tornado, many personnel came to Jefferson City to help.
- ALL of Jefferson City Police Department
- 4 from the Columbia Police Department
- 30 Highway Patrol cadets
- 13 University of Missouri Campus Police
- 13 Missouri State Troopers
- 13 Federal Law Enforcement personnel
- 6 from Holts Summit Police Department
- 6 from Fulton Police Department
- 2 from the Capitol Police Department
- 1 from Centralia Police Department
- 1 from the St. Ann Police Department
Months later, however, there are still many unanswered questions:
What will happen to the damaged historic homes?
The Historic City of Jefferson (HCJ) has partnered with the city to pay for up to 250 residential building permits in June, July and August to help homeowners rebuild. “HCJ is doing that for all properties regardless of age because we feel that it’s important that we help our entire community,” said HCJ Executive Director Anne Green. They are also working to pair those interested in selling their property to buyers who will restore the property. In addition, HCJ is collecting architectural salvage to be purchased and reused. Homes that are not fixed or chosen for rehabilitation will have to choose to demolish or sell the property.
Will the Missouri State Penitentiary reopen for tours?
“At this time, the Convention and Visitors Bureau along with the Missouri Office of Administration is assessing the damage. Once it is assessed, we will have a better understanding of how to proceed with the repairs. We will do everything we can to reopen, but at this time we don’t know what that timeline looks like,” says Diane Gillespie, Director of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
Why was the tornado siren activated two different times?
Tornado sirens run off of battery power. The sirens are programmed to run for only a few minutes and automatically shut off to preserve the battery life. The sirens were activated a second time as confirmation that a significant event was still occurring.