ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. (KMOX) – It started with an unseasonably strong series of storms that roared through the St. Louis area on New Year’s Eve and seemed to never let up – extreme weather dominated headlines throughout the year.
Tornadoes, flooding – even a lengthy heat wave – all descended on Missouri in 2011, a year the National Weather Service is calling “one for the record books”.
Warning coordination meteorologist Jim Kramper watched it all unfold from the National Weather Service office in Weldon Spring.
KMOX News asked Kramper if we can expect a repeat of the wild weather pattern in 2012.
“Well one would hope it was an anomaly,” Kramper replied. “But there’s nothing we can pinpoint to say this is going to happen again in 2012 or 2013. The general consensus is, you know, severe weather is going to happen no matter what, so what we are working on now is just making sure people are prepared as much as they can be.”
He said one lesson of 2011 is that deadly weather can strike anywhere at any time, but it’s something the Weather Service feels compelled to keep reminding people as memories fade.
“Unfortunately, people do have short memories,” Kramper explained. “When (a weather disaster) is recent they remember it, they kind of keep it in their heads. But we could go a couple of years or so before we have another big outbreak, and then people get complacent.”
The National Weather Service counts 12 separate weather disasters nationwide in 2011 that caused at least $1 billion in damage — three of them impacted Missouri.
- An outbreak of 180 tornadoes in the central and southern states caused at least 177 deaths. Notably, an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, Mo., resulting in 158 fatalities. It was the deadliest single tornado to strike the U.S. since modern tornado record-keeping began in 1950. The outbreak resulted in more than $6.5 billion insured losses, with total losses greater than $9.1 billion.
- Persistent rainfall (nearly 300 percent normal precipitation amounts in the Ohio Valley) combined with melting snowpack caused historical flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Estimated economic losses range from $3–4 billion. At one point, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to intentionally destroy the Bird’s Point levee, blowing it up to release pressure and prevent downstream communities from being flooded.
- Extreme heat settled in over Missouri and parts of the southern plains, creating multiple days in which the heat and humidity soared into triple digits, and leading to a drought that claimed at least $10 billion worth of crops, livestock and timber.
The silver lining, according to meteorologist Jim Kramper, is that 2011 also provided a major learning experience for his agency.
“The National Weather Service is constantly going back and looking to see what we did that worked well, what didn’t work,” Kramper said. “What type of information do our customers need from us, what’s useful, what’s not useful. That’s something we’re always doing.”
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