Midwest could see more severe weather this spring

Friday, March 12, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:47 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Lisa Cunningham's first grade class at Rock Bridge Elementary School practices a tornado drill on Thursday in the school's media center. The school participates in a statewide tornado drill once a year.

COLUMBIA — Based on trends from past years, Columbia could be in for more thunderstorms, tornadoes and flooding this spring.

“When we compare this year to similar years, it is matching up to the more active years,” said Tony Lupo, professor and chair of the atmospheric sciences department at MU, though he said there is no way to predict how severe it will be.

More weather spotting classes scheduled

Second spotter class scheduled: Demand is so high for weather-spotter training that the Columbia/Boone County Office of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service have scheduled a second class in Columbia. It will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., April 5 at the Columbia Police Department Training Facility, 5001 Meyer Industrial Drive.

Weather spotters scatter across the area during storms and report their observations — such as funnel clouds, hail, high winds and heavy rain — to help authorities determine what’s happening in the sky and on the ground.

“We had such a fantastic amount of interest in the weather spotter class we held in February that we actually had to defer a number of RSVPs,” Emergency Management Director Zim Schwartze said in a news release. “… Whether you’re a first responder, ham radio operator or just a weather enthusiast, you’re invited to the class.”

Extension advocates storm shelters: The folks at University Extension are urging Missourians to consider building storm shelters or safe rooms in their homes to further protect them from violent storms. Extension offers a wealth of information about the shelters, and about tornadoes in general, here.

Agency tracks tornadoes: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers reams of facts and data about tornadoes in the United States. Go here to find it.

Related Media

Weather patterns correlate with El Nino-type years, he said. That means warm, wet air is pushed across the Midwest on a strong southern jet stream.

That “provides a path for pressure systems and the more of those you get, the more thunderstorms you get,” Lupo said.

In its long-range forecasts, the Farmers' Almanac has also predicted a possible increase in thunderstorms and tornadoes this spring.

“It looks like it is going to be a cool, stormy and wet spring for the Midwest,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor for the publication.

According to the Farmers' Almanac Web site, forecasts are calculated several years in advance.

“Our forecasts are based on an astronomical and mathematical formula,” Duncan said. “We see them go wrong, we see them go right, but more often than not we are pretty accurate. We have been accurate about 80 to 85 percent of the time.”

Julie Phillipson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said the Midwest has had a tendency to see severe weather at this time of year.

“Spring is a time in the United States where we do tend to get a lot of our severe weather,” Phillipson said. “Especially across the plains of the Midwest, we see a lot stronger thunderstorms and tornadoes start to occur.”

A brutal winter north of Missouri with higher snowfall than average may present another problem for the state — flooding.

When the soil is saturated, water from the melting snow runs into river basins, Phillipson said. Any thunderstorms or severe weather with excess rainfall will contribute to that.

“This is the main hazard we are looking at, especially for our area in central Missouri,” she said. “We’re definitely looking at flooding as one of our major concerns.”

As for the accuracy of Farmers' Almanac predictions, Phillipson said, they may be ballpark estimates, but actual weather forecasts are based on individual weather systems.

“It really just depends.”

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