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Expert predicts a quieter spring for Columbia

La Niña will push jet stream and storms toward northern Midwest.
Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 9:31 p.m. CST; updated 11:43 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 10, 2011
Students take cover during a severe weather drill at 1:30 pm, Thursday, March 2011 at Lee Elementary. The National Weather Service and the State Emergency Management Agency declared March 7-11 as Severe Weather Awareness Week for Missouri.

COLUMBIA — As Missouri held its annual statewide tornado drill Thursday afternoon, an MU climatologist said residents of the state might have a quieter spring than usual.

Tony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at MU, expects La Niña to direct severe weather toward the east and north of mid-Missouri. La Niña is a phenomenon that occurs when the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is cooler than usual. It's essentially the opposite of El Niño, which is when the eastern tropical Pacific is warmer than usual, Lupo said.

Severe weather safety

Weather a severe storm with these tips from the Columbia/Boone County Office of Emergency Management.

  • Make a plan for severe weather situations. If you live in a mobile home, which provides inadequate protection in case of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, make arrangements to take cover at a neighboring house or structure.
  • During a tornado watch, listen to the radio to monitor the weather.
  • During a tornado warning, which means a tornado has been spotted or could materialize at any second, take cover in a basement if possible. If the building lacks a basement, take cover in the lowest level. Interior hallways offer further protection. Stay away from windows or large rooms such as gymnasiums.
  • If you’re in a car when a tornado appears, do not try to outrun the tornado. Seek shelter in a nearby building or, if necessary, lie flat in a ditch and cover your head.
  • In case of lightning, take shelter if possible. Stay away from bodies of water and single, tall objects, such as trees, as well as metal objects such as golf clubs, fishing rods and bicycles.
  • Indoors, avoid water faucets and sinks, which can transfer electricity from metal pipes.

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La Niña generally pushes the jet stream toward the northern part of the Midwest, Lupo said. This could lead to more storms and severe weather in those areas.

"For us, this could possibly lead to a drier than normal spring, and that would also mean a drier than normal summer," Lupo said.

Still, there are other factors that help determine whether or not a severe storm will occur, National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said, and it is difficult to make accurate seasonal forecasts.

The weather service's three-month outlook shows that Columbia has an equal chance of experiencing above- or below-normal precipitation and temperatures over the next three months.

Not that this ever stopped the writers of the Farmers' Almanac, who predicted February's near-blizzard in mid-Missouri to the day. The almanac calls for significant snowfall March 24 to 27, intermittent dry spells in April and May and potentially severe thunderstorms April 20 to 23.

"This is just part of the natural ebb and flow of things with El Niño and La Niña," Lupo said.

No tornado has touched down in Columbia since Nov. 9, 1998, when a twister struck the southeast part of the city, destroying or severely damaging about 50 homes and businesses. The storm hit Southridge Subdivision particularly hard.

Even though it has been more than 12 years since a tornado touched down in Columbia, Lupo said the area doesn't enjoy any immunity, especially from storms coming from the north and west. The area between the Ozarks and St. Louis does receive some natural tornado protection, though.

"We are a bit shielded from tornadoes from the southwest due to the Ozark Plateau," Lupo said.


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