More wild weather; 2 tornadoes reported in Moniteau County

Monday, January 7, 2008 | 9:52 p.m. CST; updated 8:38 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — The recent stint of unseasonable, and somewhat odd, weather continued Monday with temperatures in the 70s, heavy rain, hail and severe storms that produced reports of tornadoes in Moniteau County.

After a weekend of mild temperatures allowed Columbians to temporarily emerge from hibernation, Monday’s weather continued to veer in a direction that would seem more familiar in May than January.

“We’ve had some warm, moist air for this time of year,” said Jim Kramper of the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

He said Monday’s storms formed when warm air was pushed up by a wave of cold air from the west. As the upper atmosphere cooled the air, its moisture condensed, causing heavy rain. In some areas, the moisture froze mid-air, producing hail.

“These weren’t weak storms by any measure,” Kramper said. “They had some pop to them.”

The change in weather over the past four days was abrupt, and the next several days will likely demonstrate how quickly the pendulum can swing back.

Temperatures will begin to fall into the 40s over the next two days, and the National Weather Service is forecasting a 30 percent chance of a mix between rain and snow in central Missouri on Thursday.

On Monday, the emergency dispatch center for the Moniteau County Sheriff’s Office said it received reports of two tornadoes near the town of California, which is about 45 miles southwest of Columbia. There were no reports of severe damage or injuries.

“It was just a couple of tornadoes that touched down in some corn fields,” said Sarah Jones, an administrator at the dispatch center. “The people that called said they saw them come down and then bounce back up.”

Jones said the first tornado was reported just before 4 p.m., about one mile west of California, and the second one occurred shortly thereafter, northwest of the town. Jones said that high winds, pounding rain and “pretty large” hail hit the area.

The weather service posted a report of only one tornado in Moniteau County.

The conditions led to four car accidents, two of which were head-on collisions, and two were minor accidents, Jones said.

But getting any real handle on how much, if any, actual tornadic activity took place might have to wait at least a day.

“I don’t think we’re going to find out any more information until it’s light out,” said Benjamin Sipprell, a meterologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis. “To be honest, we’re not entirely sure of what has happened.”

He said he could not confirm earlier reports of a tornado near Hartsburg.

Sipprell said the only report he had heard was of one tornado one mile east of California. He added that the weather service also heard of funnel activity near Montgomery City but was not able to confirm if there was rotation.

Meanwhile, Boone County was lashed with high winds and pounded with hail.

In Ashland, golf ball-size hail fell on the town, and rain poured. But just after 5 p.m., life assumed its usual rhythm as commuters between Jefferson City and Columbia stopped to fill up tanks. Traffic flowed up and down the town’s main drag, and no signs of the storm were visible.

That didn’t mean precautions weren’t taken. The storms rolled through near the end of the school day, forcing administrators to keep students a little later.

Charlotte Miller, school superintendent for Southern Boone County, said schools extended their usual dismissal time from 3 p.m. to 4:40 p.m.

“All the buildings went through standard safety procedures,” Miller said. “We kept in contact with the (Boone County) Joint Communications Center.”

Columbia was pelted with1-inch hail and heavy rains after the skies slowly grew dark throughout the afternoon. A tornado siren sounded just after 3 p.m.

The weather forced Columbia Public Schools to delay ferrying kids home on their usual bus routes. Instead, students were moved into basements and hallways.

“As long as there was a warning, they followed the emergency procedures,” said Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett. She added that students who were already on buses when the watch was declared were taken to the nearest school where they, too, followed emergency procedures.

Barnett said that there was constant e-mail communication between the schools and the superintendent’s office, as well as text messages sent to both the principals of the schools and the students’ parents. Additionally, Columbia Public Schools’ Web site was updated to inform visitors of the situation.

Once the watch was lifted, the busing schedule resumed, Barnett said, and the last students were picked up at 4:45 p.m.

The worst of Monday’s weather has passed, Kramper said. An incoming cold front will, however, continue to cause additional, less serious storms. The front will continue to push the strongest storms to the northeast and return mid-Missouri weather to normal.

— Missourian reporters Elizabeth Schlee, Matt Harris and Philip Prouhet contributed to this report.

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