On March 6 a tornado howled through the small town of Shelbina, Mo. The EF1 strength tornado brought damage centralized around the South Shelby High School, stretching to nearby homes. For one family it meant their home of more than 20 years was destroyed.
“It looks like a total loss right now,” says Nathan Hillard, whose childhood home was hit. The tornado tore the family’s porch and front half of the roof off the house and caused significant damage to their barn and out buildings.
When Shelby County, Mo. volunteer firefighter Jared Wilt arrived on scene he found the Hillard couple safe and livestock running wild from destroyed enclosures. He and other first responders worked until at least 2:30 the following morning clearing roads and making sure citizens were safe.
The morning sun shed light on the severity of the storm’s damage. It was isolated to a 16 mile stretch around Shelbina. One FFA member saw what happened to the school and to the Hillard family and rallied his chapter to take action.
“School was cancelled to clear debris and ensure student safety,” says Kathryn Coon, agricultural education teacher and co-FFA adviser at South Shelby High School. “The students wanted to help the family and the school.”
Nearly 30 FFA members, along with other volunteers from the community, worked from 8:00 a.m. to early evening clearing debris from the school and the Hillard home. The crew also spent time rounding up livestock and salvaging furniture and other belongings from the home.
“I’m very proud of these kids who took part in helping their community,” says Tim Larrick, another agricultural education teacher and co-FFA adviser at South Shelby High School.
This wasn’t the first tornado of the year, however. On March 1 tornadoes stretched from southeast Missouri to southwest Michigan and this week’s tornadoes tore through Kansas, western Missouri and up into Minnesota. The same night the Hillards lost their home, more than 400 others in western Missouri were destroyed.
While it might seem like an early start to tornado season, don’t worry too much just yet. Tornadoes are difficult to predict and tend to ebb and flow, says Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-National Weather Service. While the season started a little early it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a tough spring.
In a typical year there will be 130 to 150 days with at least one EF1 tornado, but in recent years that number has dropped to about 80 to 100 days.
“But what you’ve seen is the overall number of tornadoes [annually] has remained the same,” Marsh says. “So what that means is we’re seeing fewer days with tornadoes, but when we do have them we see more of them.”
The number of tornadoes per day is the biggest change in tornado weather they’ve seen in the past 30 years, Marsh adds.