Rain proves both boon, bane for area businesses

Columbia is close to its record for January rainfall.
Monday, January 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:05 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

For Lee Riley, the only thing good about the cold is that it means he can get back to work.

Riley, owner of Riley Contractors, said all the precipitation this month has prevented two of his three full-time employees from working.

“We’ve got four projects going on right now,” Riley said. “Two houses are still waiting to be started. We haven’t been able to start framing because we are waiting for the concrete to be poured.”

Riley said although weather delays are expected during wintertime, this year has been a muddy mess.

In the first two weeks of January, Columbia received 6.49 inches of precipitation. That is less than half an inch from becoming the wettest January on record, experts say.

MU climatologist Pat Guinan said the extreme wetness is unprecedented in what is usually the driest month of the year for Columbia.

“We’re experiencing something that is highly unusual,” Guinan said. “All the ingredients have been in place for these heavy-rain events. It’s an unusual, persistent weather pattern and it’s been fairly stubborn.”

The wettest January on record for Columbia occurred in 1897 with 6.87 inches of rain, and the second highest was in 1916 with 6.80 inches of precipitation. Rainfall records for Columbia date back to 1890.

St. Louis has already broken its record for January of 8.53 inches of precipitation, set in 1916. The National Weather Service in St. Louis reported the city has already received 8.61 inches of rain.

“In 136 Januaries, they’ve never had so much rainfall,” Guinan said, adding that records for St. Louis date back to 1870.

Tony Lupo, associate professor of atmospheric science, said January’s weather is a fairly typical El Niño pattern. Lupo said although climatologists have not determined what triggers El Niño, they do know how it happens.

“El Niño is a large-scale phenomenon which involves a coupled response from the atmosphere and the ocean,” Lupo said. “A warming of sea surface temperatures in the tropical east Pacific changes where the warm waters are, which changes the location of the jet stream.”

For Columbia, this means higher levels of rain.

Dale Bechtold, broadcaster and meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said in an El Niño year, changes in upper-level air flow direct storms coming in from the Pacific away from their normal track, often bringing rain.

“The storms then come and take a more southerly track across the U.S. and bring warmer temperatures with them to our region,” Bechtold said. “This means we get rain instead of snow.”

Already Boone County has been issued several flash flood warnings, which Guinan said are something to be expected in May, not January.

The unusual precipitation is affecting contractors and plumbers in Boone County. Dave Kempker, owner of Benjamin Franklin plumbing, said sump pump sales are up this year.

“We’ve had a lot of calls for leaks that turned out to be leaks in the foundation,” Kempker said.

Glenn and Lisa Leubbering, owners of PEP Waterproofing, said they’ve had at least twice as many calls from people with ground or surface water seeping into their basements.

“A man from Columbia just called with a first-time leak,” Glenn Leubbering said. “A lot of them have been first-time leaks. It keeps us constantly bidding jobs. We just don’t have any downtime.”

Cindy Bowne, Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District manager and technician, said many landowners have not been able to finish work on land-management cost-share projects because of weather delays. Postponed work includes terracing and applying lime to fields as well as work on pond dams.

“We’ve been giving them time extensions to complete their projects,” Bowne said. “We understand the landowners can’t control Mother Nature.”

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