Severe storms test warning, shelter systems in Joplin and Carthage (2024)

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Joplin shelters Carthage

Severe storms put two area school districts to the test Monday night. Both Carthage and Joplin opened FEMA shelters and safe rooms at area schools in advance of tornadoes.

Hundreds of people took shelter at schools in each community.

Joplin has 13 FEMA shelters that are available to the public when severe weather threatens. Carthage has one FEMA shelter and three safe rooms; all were open Monday night.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday confirmed two tornadoes, both rated EF1, hit the area late Monday night, one in Joplin and the other near Carthage. Both storms downed large trees and power lines and damaged roofs, homes, businesses and other buildings.

The Joplin School District reported that it had opened all 13 of its shelters before the tornado touched down in Joplin at 11:29 p.m. because an earlier tornado warning had been sounded for northwestern Jasper County, but there was a glitch at the high school that caused a delay.

The district opens its shelters anytime there is a tornado warning anywhere in Jasper County, said Matt Harding, assistant superintendent of operations at the Joplin School District.

“We have a hookup to the weather radio, and it is not able to distinguish what part of Jasper County is affected, so basically anytime a tornado warning sounds in Jasper County,” he said.

The shelters opened despite the fact that tornado warning sirens did not sound in Joplin.

A tornado warning was issued for northwestern Jasper County at 11:16 p.m., but not for Joplin.

Joplin fire Chief Gerald Ezell told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that the sirens were not sounded because the National Weather Service had not issued a tornado warning for Joplin.

Weather service meteorologist Steve Runnels, the warning coordinator at the Springfield office, said his office issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Joplin and points northeast of town at 11:20 p.m. and issued a tornado warning for the Carterville area at 11:34 p.m. No tornado warning was issued for Joplin on Monday night.

Runnels said that the 11:34 p.m. warning was when meteorologists in Springfield got their first indication of rotation in the storm.

“We issue warnings when we’re convinced that severe weather and or tornadoes are imminent, so we were closely monitoring, getting reports in from spotters, radar, and when we did believe there was a tornado threat was when we issued that warning,” Runnels said. “I do want to remind everyone that a warning, whether it be severe thunderstorm or otherwise, is an indication of a life-threatening event has arrived. We certainly recognize severe thunderstorm warning versus tornado warning, but again, both are warnings.”

Joplin shelters

Harding said Joplin sheltered more than 300 people across its 13 shelters.

According to the school district, about 9 p.m., when Jasper County was placed under a tornado watch, a reminder about safe room locations and rules was shared on the district’s Facebook page and in ParentSquare, a mass communication tool the district uses for parents and staff.

“The message reiterated that district safe rooms will be opened when prompted by a tornado warning from the National Weather Service or if the city of Joplin triggers tornado sirens,” according to the statement.

At 11:16 p.m., when a tornado warning was issued for northwest Jasper County, safe room doors districtwide were automatically opened, except for Joplin High School, which officials said had a malfunction. A district safe room supervisor arrived at Joplin High School at 11:22 p.m. and manually unlocked the door. That was seven minutes before the tornado touched down on the west side of Joplin.

Harding said that school video indicated someone showed up at the high school before it was unlocked, and they were let in as soon as it was opened.

“We think it’s working now,” Harding said. “We tested it about 15 times since then, and it has worked every single time. We even tested it this morning with our software people on the phone, and they couldn’t see anything on their end, and it has worked every time since then, so we don’t know what it was on Monday.”


Holley Goodnight, Carthage’s assistant superintendent for business affairs, said that district provided shelter to more than 300 people across its four buildings. She did not know when the shelters specifically opened but said they were open before a tornado touched down west of Carthage at 11:38 p.m., which is the time given by the National Weather Service.

The district has one large FEMA shelter built into Carthage Junior High School on River Street. That shelter is open to the public anytime severe weather threatens.

The district announced in 2021 that safe rooms at Columbian Elementary School and Pleasant Valley Elementary school and the gymnasium at the Carthage Intermediate Center would be made available to the public but only after school hours.

The shelters at the two elementary schools were built without FEMA funds and are smaller — too small to be opened to the public when school is in session and the building is sheltering the students and staff.

The Carthage Intermediate Center gym was also built without FEMA money and doesn’t have some of the safety equipment available at the shelter at the junior high.

“As a district, we looked at the geographic locations throughout our community and tried to open safe rooms that were close to neighborhoods that could cover most of the community if needed,” Goodnight said. “So Columbian and the Carthage Intermediate Center and Pleasant Valley were opened. Those are because we want to be a resource to the community.”

The storm on Wednesday was an example of the difference. Students were sent to the shelters before the end of the school day, and the public would have been welcomed during the day at the junior high but not at the other three schools.

Severe storms test warning, shelter systems in Joplin and Carthage (2024)
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