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DEAR READER: How do you classify a storm? Depends whether you have a room with a (new) view

Friday, July 11, 2014 | 6:43 p.m. CDT; updated 7:12 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2014

Meteorologically speaking, Monday's storm was no big deal.

Cold front moving south meets 90-degree day and — bam! — a thunderstorm is made.

"They were just a normal, summertime thunderstorm complex," Jim Kramper of the National Weather Service told Missourian reporter Rachel Jelinek.

He's right, from where he sits. Summer thunderstorms in mid-Missouri are as common as stink bugs on tomato vines.

And he's totally wrong, from where the Schulzes slept. They camped in their gazebo until power was restored Wednesday night. It doesn't matter whether a natural event isn't classified as a tornado if there's a tree on your house, as Michael Stampley discovered after totaling his car on another tree during the storm.

By most accounts, the winds that came whipping through the west side of Columbia Monday night wrought more damage through downed power lines and trees than any in recent memory. (I'm not including winter snowstorms here.) By Friday afternoon, there were still people without power as we went into a hot, muggy weekend.

Everyone awake knew it was a powerfully loud racket Monday night. Those of you on the east side of town may not have noticed much else as you rolled out of bed Tuesday morning. Those west of West Boulevard, though, had a more awesomely destructive view.

(The contrast reminded me of an ice storm when I lived out east. The newspaper's main office was near the coast, where warm ocean winds kept the ice at bay. People farther west, where I lived, crawled through numerous auto accidents and massive power outages. The headline in the paper the next morning? Winter Wonderland, with a pretty picture of ice on a tree. The managing editor also lived in the west. His response the next morning? Livid.)

The Missourian's coverage was pretty slim as the sun came up, but the staff responded well once everyone got rolling. It contained practical information, like what to do with fallen limbs, along with more human stories about the cleanup. I was pleased, too, that reporters and editors stuck with the story throughout the week.

***

What's in a name? A story.

Racers who entered the four-mile Parley P. Pratt Memorial Freedom Run know about the man being remembered because there's a recitation of his story at the beginning of the annual event. Has been for 20 years now.

So the Pratt legacy is known to some. But I'm not a runner, and I barely tolerate walking, which is why I have a pedometer to force me to pay attention. I'm also woefully ignorant of Mormon history in Missouri.

What a history it is.

By July 4, 1839, when Pratt made Columbia history by escaping the Boone County jail, Pratt and Missouri were firmly entrenched in the annals of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. In 1831, founder Joseph A. Smith envisioned a City of Zion — a new Jerusalem for the Second Coming — centered around Independence. Pratt was among the first Mormon missionaries to the area. By 1833, Jackson County was the scene of mob violence pitting "old settlers" vs. Mormon immigrants.

Missourians don't come out well in the history books. By 1838, riots turned to outright battles, which came to be known as the Missouri Mormon War. The governor issued an executive order to the state militia: "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state." Ten thousand citizens were driven from their homes and farms.

What's in a story? A question.

I got to learn about all this history through the simplest of journalistic exercises. Managing editor Jeanne Abbott was looking for "weird stuff going on around the 4th of July." She found a kissing contest, but it was canceled (I can imagine on the grounds of bad taste). And she ran across the oddly titled Parley P. Pratt Memorial Freedom Run.

It prompted her to ask: What's up with that? Who is Pratt, and why is it a freedom run?

A lot of journalism happens that way. It is the discipline of finding the unasked question that takes us on new and interesting paths.

****

An apology: The quality of the daily report doesn't matter if you don't get your newspaper. Some print subscribers have had trouble receiving theirs in the last two weeks. I don't know all the reasons, but I know that the Missourian's general manager Dan Potter is upset that it's happening and apologetic that readers aren't getting their papers. He's also working to fix the problems. If you have a delivery problem, call the circulation department at 882-5700 or write to circulation@missouri.edu. Or you can call me at 882-5734 or write to warhovert@missouri.edu.

Tom


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