Storm recap: Sassafras still stands, thousands lose power, sirens sound off, mostly ‘widespread minor’ damage

March 4, 2023 | 12:11 am

Updated March 4, 2023 | 9:39 am

Strong winds cause a tree to fall on West Parrish Avenue, and it brought down power lines with it. | Photo by Nathan Seaton

The historic sassafras tree on Frederica Street survived the harsh winds. Many others, along with dozens of utility poles, were uprooted or snapped near the base, leaving tens of thousands of people without power for varying durations. A system error caused the tornado siren to sound briefly but none ever touched the ground. All in all, officials said Daviess County largely only experienced “widespread minor” damage and some flooding as a result of Friday’s storm.

What was the deal with the tornado sirens?

Daviess County has 55 outdoor warning sirens that alert to approaching severe weather. A siren test is typically performed each Friday at noon, but in anticipation of severe weather this week’s was canceled by the Daviess County Emergency Management Agency. They made the announcement nearly 24 hours in advance. 

But when 12 p.m. hit, the siren started to sound. Officials were able to quickly shut it off, and luckily it came during a break between systems. DCEMA was able to cut the siren off before it actually blared from every speaker, and immediately told citizens to disregard via a Facebook post.

DCEMA Director Andy Ball told Owensboro Times that “the siren test was canceled in the system on both the City and County side, but for some reason the County system decided it wanted to start the test, then end it before all sirens went off. We’ll be working with the tech company to ensure that never occurs again.”

Within the next hour, a different sound could be heard from some of the sirens, followed by a recorded message warning about a severe thunderstorm in the area. Ball said that is not new, and that “the parks sirens do that for outdoor activities.”

Why did people think the sassafras tree had been blown down?

The thought likely started because there was a tree that had been uprooted yards away. That tree fell toward the sassafras tree, and even possibly brought down a few limbs with it (even standing next to the trees it was hard to distinguish where the smaller branches came from). But the world’s largest sassafras is still standing (as shown by our photo here).

How many people lost power?

Upwards of 60,000 people across all of Kenergy’s and Owensboro Municipal Utilities’ combined service areas were affected at some point according to officials and data seen on outage maps.

Kenergy Communications and Public Relations Specialist Leslie Barr said they began receiving notifications around 11:20 p.m. Kenergy serves 14 counties, stretching as far southwest as Lyon county. Outages spanned 12 counties.

At 4:18 p.m. they had nearly 25,000 members without power at 298 outage locations. At 4 p.m. that number jumped to more than 50,000 due to one outage location affecting nearly 25,000 members according to their outage map. As of 9 p.m. they were down to 20,000 members without power, per the map.

Members can view Kenergy’s system outage map any time by clicking here

“We have all available crews working,” Barr said when asked when Kenergy thinks all power will be restored. “We cannot predict a restoration time due to the large number of outages and members affected. We are preparing members to be out overnight and into tomorrow.”

OMU spokesperson Sonya Dixon said that at the peak of the storm — which was approximately 3 p.m. — there were roughly 7,500 OMU customers without power. As of 9 p.m., the OMU outage map showed approximately 100 areas remained affected with about 2,400 customers without service. 

“Our substation and line crews, control room and support staff, along with tree and other contract crews continue to work to restore power,” Doxon said. “We are still assessing damage, but have identified 20 broken poles and are seeing the most damage on the west side primarily associated with downed trees pulling down lines and destroying poles.” 

She added, “We will soon be joined by additional tree trimming and electric contract crews to also assist with our restoration. Crews will work until all service is restored. We anticipate the majority of customers back in service by tomorrow night. Please watch for updates as we continue this restoration process.

Customers can view the OMU outage map by clicking here

Barr and Dixon both also stressed that customers should stay away from downed power lines and assume any line is energized. Call your service provider, a qualified electrician, or other appropriate agencies to check out the problem.

Were there any injuries and how much property damage was there?

Ball said he wasn’t made aware of any serious injuries. Daviess County Sheriff Brad Youngman said there was at least one accident with injuries but was not aware of any injuries directly caused by weather.

Ball said the damage he saw countywide “was 90% electric poles and trees down. Most residential damage was minor roof or siding damage spanning from Maceo to the west county line. There were a couple of barns with major damage or destroyed in mostly the west part of the county.” He said there was minor flooding, mostly in rural and low-lying areas.

Youngman similarly said he only knew of widespread minor damage from strong winds including roof damage and trees down. He noted some roads remain closed. 

What roads were closed due to high water/flooding?

According to Daviess County Fiscal Court, as of about 3 p.m. Friday the following roads were closed:

East Daviess County:

  • East Marksberry Road
  • Pleasant Point
  • King Road
  • Old Hwy 54
  • Millers Mill Road
  • Old State Road
  • Deserter Creek Road
  • Oklahoma Laffoon Road
  • Boston Laffon
  • Jack Hinton Road
  • Short Station Road
  • Yelvington Knottsville Road
  • Karns Grove Road

Central Daviess County:

  • Sutherland Road
  • Redhill Maxwell Road
  • Keller Road
  • Fisher Road
  • Ben Ford Road
  • North Jackson Road

West Daviess County:

  • Flat Lick Road

As of 10 p.m., no update had been provided on whether any of the roads were reopened.

OMU issues boil water advisory

Later Friday, Owensboro Municipal Utilities issued a boil water advisory as a precaution for customers served by the pump station in the Hillcrest area.

Due to a decrease in water pressure, customers in the Burlew Boulevard to College View School, from Scotty Lane to Sutherland Road area were put under a boil water advisory. This advisory was issued as a precaution only. Read more here.

March 4, 2023 | 12:11 am

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