Johnson County feels lingering impacts of storm — Why was this one so bad?

A tree uprooted in Prairie Village, a not uncommon scene in the aftermath of Friday's thunderstorms. Photo credit Laura Ziegler/KCUR 89.3.

For Midwesterners used to sudden summer storms, Friday night still felt unusual.

“That … was terrifying,” one Kansas City area resident said on Twitter, echoing the sentiments of many others in the aftermath of a powerful storm system that downed tree limbs, uprooted whole trees and knocked out power to tens of thousands.

As of Sunday afternoon, Evergy said nearly 90% of metro customers had power restored.

But more than 16,000 Johnson County customers were among those who remained without power and officials with the utility warned it could be into Tuesday before all customers’ power was back on.

“It’s going to be a long road,” said Chuck Caisley, Evergy’s chief customer officer, on Saturday. “This is the largest storm [Evergy] has had. This is a big restoration.”

A “squall line” hit Kansas City area

  • A “squall line” is when multiple thunderstorms over a wide area “consolidate” their energy into higher wind gusts, according to Jared Leighton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Kansas City field office.
  • Forecasters measured winds generally between 50-60 miles per hour on Saturday, with some gusts topping 70 miles per hour. One storm chaser notched an unofficial measurement of 89 miles per hour near Basehor, Kansas.
  • It’s at 60 miles per hour that the National Weather Services starts warning that a storms’ wind gusts could damage trees.
  • “Friday’s storm was on the stronger end, the more anomalous end, as far as these squall line storms go,” Leighton said.
Debris cleanup at a home near 77th and Belinder in Prairie Village on Saturday. Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

The storm itself delayed Evergy’s response Friday

  • Since the storm lingered over Evergy’s cross-state service area for several hours Friday, Caisley said crews could not get out initially until after dark, when it it harder to assess damage.
  • Across the Kansas City metro at its peak Friday evening, Evergy said the storm knocked out power to 186,000 customers at one time, the “largest” service outage in the company’s history, Caisley said. (The company was the result of a merger five years ago between Westar and KCP&L.)
  • About 500 power poles were “either snapped, upturned or had major damage” and needed to be replaced, according to Caisley.
  • Nearly every community in Johnson County saw damage, with some of the more pronounced pockets of destruction focused in Prairie Village, Lenexa, Shawnee and north Leawood and Overland Park.

It has taken multiple days to restore power

  • Caisley said on Sunday that Evergy had more than 3,000 workers putting in 16-hour shifts to try to get all customers back online.
  • Through so-called mutual assistance agreements, Evergy had called in crews from utilities in other states, including from as far away as Wisconsin and Indiana, to assist with recovery.
  • On Sunday, more than 2,000 vehicles were out on metro streets trying to reconnect power.
Image via Evergy.

“Significant damage” is hampering recovery efforts

  • On Sunday morning, Evergy said there were still at least 2,700 “broken” spots in their system causing localized outages.
  • Many of these outages were small, Caisley said, impacting just a handful of customers each and it could be “slow going” getting them all back online.
  • The company said crews were having to clear debris away on nearly every outage before workers could begin repairing damaged lines and poles, further complicating the response.

More storm news: Here’s how you can get rid of storm debris in Johnson County