2008 is Missouri's wettest year ever

Thursday, January 1, 2009 | 5:20 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — This time Missouri's drought really is over.

Following nearly three years of sparse rainfall, 2008 is poised to go into the record books as the state's wettest year ever, eclipsing even the Great Flood year of 1993.

State climatologist Pat Guinan said projections indicate the state will average just over 57 inches of precipitation, a fraction above the record 56.9 inches set in 1993. But it will be a couple more months before the final statewide numbers are official, he said.

"We have the dubious distinction of having the largest above-normal (precipitation) departure in the country," Guinan said. "Many counties received more than 60 inches, and a handful reported more than 70 inches of precipitation."

He said the highest precipitation total he found was in Unionville, near the Iowa border, where the cooperative weather station recorded 73.96 inches — almost double the town's normal average of 37.26 inches.

"That's an amazing statistic that really puts things into perspective," he said.

St. Louis shattered its precipitation mark by 3 inches, thanks to a wet spring and weather systems that seemed to hover over the eastern part of the state.

Heading into the final day of the year, the city had received 57.96 inches of precipitation, easily besting the old record of 54.97 set in 1982.

"March was the wettest month on record," said Benjamin Sipprell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in St. Louis. "We had very wet periods every month after that. March got really wet because we had a basic weather disturbance that came up and stalled over southern Missouri. In May we had an appreciably wet month, due to the fact that the upper-level jet stream kept weather disturbances over the St. Louis area."

On the western side of the state, Kansas City had 44.66 inches of precipitation in 2008, more than a foot less than in St. Louis but still nearly 7 inches above the normal of 37.94 inches.

Rainfall totals in southern and eastern Missouri were swelled greatly by remnants of at least four tropical storms, something Guinan said was extremely unusual.

"We saw numerous flood events, some of historical proportions," he said. "The number of tropical systems to impact the state was unprecedented. Specifically, Dolly, Gustov and Ike really added to it. Remnants of Lowell also played a part. We had four tropical systems — five if you talk about Fay, which barely affected the Missouri Bootheel. That's impressive, given the previous record was three in 2005."

If there is a bright side to all the wetness, it's that the drought that started in May 2005 and lingered in places through late 2007 is officially over.

But even that comes at a high price for farmers who lost some crop yields because of late spring planting and later watched commodity prices plunge.

"I think in general it was a bad spring for crops," said Bill Wiebold, a plant sciences professor at the University of Missouri. "It was wet, wetter than normal. Frequent rain meant farmers couldn't get into the fields and do what they needed to do, including planting their crops. It's not good when you delay planting."

He said farms in parts of the state along the Missouri River were devastated by multiple floods.

"If the crop is covered up with water, obviously that's not a good thing," Wiebold said.

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