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Meteorologists expect a calm tornado season

Despite a tornado-laden history, Columbia is headed toward a tornado season slightly below the norm

February 21, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST


Illustration by Hannah Burkett

Kurt Bassuener doesn’t remember much from the early morning of November 10, 1998. At 1:58 a.m. while his family was sleeping, his wife, Debra, heard strange, loud noises and woke her husband.

Just then a violent tornado touched down in the Southridge subdivision, ripped the roof off of the Bassueners’ house, sucked them out of their home and threw them into the neighboring yard. Kurt Bassuener was knocked out cold.

The two children, who were 5 and 8 years old at the time, weren’t able to go to sleep without checking the weather for more than a year.

The destructive vortex that hit Columbia that night was one of the most violent the town has ever witnessed. It ranked F3 on the Fujita scale. F3 tornadoes are categorized as severe and have winds that can reach up to 206 mph. The strong winds have the potential to destroy homes and uproot trees.

This particular twister caused more than $16 million in damage, which included the cost of replacing the entire structure and contents of the Bassueners’ home. Sixteen people were injured, but no one was killed.

There have been only five reported tornadoes in Boone County since the one that ravaged the Southridge subdivision in 1998, and none of them have been in Columbia.

Although there is discrepancy in the world of atmospheric science about the actual area of Tornado Alley, Anthony Lupo, atmospheric science department chair at MU, says it is slightly west of Boone County in the Sedalia area. Tornado activity within this region is typically higher, but twisters rarely make their way to Boone County.

Lupo attributes this lack of activity to the Ozark Plateau. This area of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas rises from planes in peaks that reach as high as 1,700 feet and has been known to dissipate lower winds of the storms heading toward Columbia that have twister potential. When storms reach the area, there is less rotation, making it difficult for them to circulate in a way that is necessary for creating such inclement weather.

Due to recent weather, Lupo predicts the upcoming tornado season will be slightly below the norm. Meteorologist Eric Aldrich agrees. “We haven’t had a lot of moisture,” Aldrich says. “That’s going to probably contribute to a lot of the overall severity of storms if they do form.”

The violent weather that allows for tornado activity requires air mass contrast, the combining of warm and cold, to form the imbalance present in such storms. The lack of moisture makes this difficult, resulting in what has been and will probably continue to be below average tornado seasons.

Although this season is expected to be slightly calmer, tornadoes’ strength and impact are unpredictable. On May 8, 1927, an F4 tornado, which can generate winds of up to 260 mph, traveled into southern Boone County. Although F4 tornados have the potential to level houses, throw vehicles and blow away structures with weak foundations, no one was killed or injured.

Jim Kramper, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis, warns that many factors determine the weather and to expect anything. “We just try to get people to prepare the same every year,” Kramper says.


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