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April 11, 2012 Volume 33, No. 27

Above-average temperatures, thunderstorms for mid-Missouri this summer, MU weather expert predicts


Twister not likely to hit Columbia area this year

Tornadoes swept across north Texas this month, causing massive damage. In late February and early March, twisters ravaged the Midwest and the South, with southern Missouri taking a wallop in the Branson area. 

Tornado season lasts into June in Missouri. Could Columbia be in one’s path? And what will summer weather be like in mid-Missouri?

For nearly a year, the Midwest has experienced drought and warmer than normal conditions. This spring in mid-Missouri, residents can expect wetter than average months, said Pat Guinan, state climatologist with the MU Extension Commercial Agriculture Program. The soil will need the rain because above average winter temperatures and strong winds have dried out the land, he said.

“There’s been a few days when we had a lot of sunshine, high temperatures, low humidity and winds blowing 30 to 40 miles per hour,” Guinan said. “That led to significant moisture loss in the soil.”

This summer’s weather depends upon the La Niña climate pattern, said Anthony Lupo, MU professor and chair of the atmospheric science department in the School of Natural Resources. 

La Niña could “lead to a drought and above-average heat throughout the Midwest from Texas to Iowa, where farmers with parched fields can least afford dry conditions,” he said. 

In mid-Missouri, he expects a hot summer, but there is a bright spot. “It could be less humid in terms of atmospheric moisture,” he said. Southwest Missouri will experience the driest and hottest conditions.

If summer begins dry, it’ll make the rest of the season especially hot, Lupo said. The sun’s rays, rather than drying out wet soil, radiate off the dry earth to increase heat. 

Lupo expects plenty of thunderstorms in the Midwest during the year. Northeast Missouri may have more thunderstorms than the rest of the state, he said.

“Even though we’ll receive rain, heavy downpours are not as valuable as rain showers,” Lupo said. 

“The soil cannot absorb all of the water, and much of it runs off. We need prolonged periods of light rain to moisten the subsoil where most crops’ roots go for water.”

The warm Midwest conditions could lead to a “heat dome” affecting the rest of the country, as happened in 2011. This causes cooler temperatures in America’s northwest and northeast. In America’s southeast, Lupo predicts warmer than normal temperatures with normal precipitation.

As for the rash of tornadoes in the Midwest and the South over the last three years, Lupo said it’s hard to know if the intense weather is due to global warming. He was more certain about the possibility of Columbia being hit during tornado season. It’s not likely this year, Lupo said. 

“They tend to hit to the east [Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky] because there is more moisture there,” he said.

The Columbia area is coming off one of its warmest winters since the early 1990s, with temperatures since December running 4 degrees to 6 degrees higher than normal, Guinan said. “This winter will rank easily in the top five mildest winters for the state of Missouri,” he said.

Can Missourians expect a mild 2012–13 winter?

That’s difficult to answer, Lupo said. Just because this winter was mild doesn’t mean next winter will be. In late January and early February of 2011, after all, Columbia had a severe thunderstorm, shutting down MU for a few days. Since 2000, Lupo said, winter temperatures and snow accumulation have fluctuated a lot in the Midwest.