Weather wake-up call

Feeling empathy and sorrow but also relief, those of us in Tornado Alley spent the first weeks of spring watching other parts of the country deal with twisters and floods.

Then came the region’s awful weekend wake-up call.

One tornado killed a man and destroyed or substantially damaged 56 of 110 homes in Reading near Emporia on Saturday.

Then on Sunday a huge tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., taking many more lives than seemed possible in this age of “super Doppler” radar and cellphone weather alerts.

Combine the more than 115 deaths in Joplin with the more than 340 people recently killed in the South and other tornado outbreaks, and the spring death toll already is the nation’s highest since 1953.

The reports from Joplin, including from visiting Eagle staffers Denise Neil and Jaime Green, depict a tornado of special ferocity that crushed cars, peeled the bark off trees and decimated even the sturdiest construction.

Our prayers and thoughts are with those who lost loved ones, homes and businesses to the storms.

Kansans’ neighbors in Reading and Joplin will need the generosity and kindness of many strangers as they regroup and rebuild in the coming weeks and months.

If there is a model for how to survive such devastation, it is Greensburg. Though its population is half of the 1,498 it was before the 2007 tornado and the community still lacks for housing, Greensburg transformed its tragedy into an opportunity to be a pioneer in sustainable, environmentally friendly design.

The sobering weekend gives Kansans new cause to take shelter during tornado warnings — not shoot the clouds with a cellphone camera, or jump into the truck to join the storm chasers, or blithely assume the sirens apply to someone else.

The death toll also furthers concern over the local rules requiring storm shelters, which currently exempt 140 mobile home parks in Wichita and 17 in unincorporated areas of Sedgwick County. Are Wichita’s 17-year-old ordinance and the county’s decadeold rule doing enough to protect these vulnerable residents?

In light of Joplin’s nightmare, area businesses and families should review and revise their emergency plans as well.

Meanwhile, we should give thanks for the skills and top-notch equipment of the meteorologists who call Kansas home. Their warnings remain our best defense against nature’s worst.

And when it’s south-central Kansas’ turn again and the sirens sound, don’t be sorry. Be safe.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman