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Extreme weather the new norm?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

When John Wrenfrow was growing up in the Couch area in the 1960s and '70s, floods occurred less often, temperature changes were more gradual and Frederick Creek never dried up.

"Our weather is changing," Wrenfrow observed Friday, May 27, as he toured the southern portion of Oregon County's 450 miles of gravel roads.

After about 1980, the creek ceased to flow except during torrential downpours that eroded banks, clogged culverts and submerged low-water crossings, making many roads impassable.

Now serving as the county's southern road commissioner, Wrenfrow deals daily with the problems caused by the area's extreme rain, ice storms, high winds and drought.

Wrenfrow said his crews have repaired many roads several times over this spring, where more than 30 inches of rain has fallen since January. Last week, 2.6 inches of rain fell in less than an hour in some areas.

"I'm afraid, though, that once it dries up, it's going to shut off," Wrenfrow said of the abundant rainfall.

Following the April flooding, the county qualified for federal disaster aid.

Why so extreme?

The change in Missouri's weather has experts in disagreement over whether the extremes in temperature and precipitation are indeed abnormal or what's causing it.

Besides rainfall that in some areas was almost daily for a week at a time, temperatures also were sporadic.

"Temperatures shouldn't be in the 50s like they are today," meteorologist Doug Cramer, with the National Weather Service in Springfield, said Thursday, May 26, when the daytime temperature was 21 degrees below normal.

Two days later, the high temperature of 91 degrees was "unusual for late May," Cramer said, adding that it is those high/low temperatures "popping around" that are not normal.

"Normal" is determined by averages of weather and precipitation over the last 30 years.

Beginning in early June, the weather pattern should be more stable, he said.

Heavier downpours

Cramer said West Plains recorded 32.26 inches of rain since Jan. 1, which is almost 13 inches above normal. By itself, April set a new record for rainfall at 15.78 inches.

"You guys shattered the monthly record for April," Cramer said. "These cool temperatures, that much rain, that's not normal."

The old record was 13.59 inches, set in 1957. Normal for the area is 4.35 inches in April.

Cramer attributes the temperature swings and excessive rain to La Nina conditions. Global warming also is a factor.

"The Earth's atmosphere is becoming warmer," Cramer said. "It's happening. We can't deny that."

Cramer said the warmer atmosphere, up about a degree in the past decade, increases the ocean temperature, which, in turn, causes changes to weather patterns.

"There will be more droughts, more heavier rainfalls," Cramer said.

Warmer oceans also create a better environment for hurricanes to develop.

"The atmosphere is very complex," Cramer said. "If you change one thing, it affects many other things."

Long-term changes

Meteorologist Harold Brooks with the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., said the extreme weather and changes in the amount of hail for the region will increase over the next 50-60 years, although the change will be slow.

Global warming also has very little to do with how likely tornadoes are to form, however, Brooks said.

The warming of the planet is a relatively slow, continuous process. Extremes in weather this year, he said, are not indicative of a long-term change.

According to a state of the climate report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), April was a month of historic climate extremes across much of the United States.

Those extremes included: record-breaking precipitations that resulted in historic flooding; recurrent violent weather systems that broke records for tornado and severe weather outbreaks; and wildfire activity that scorched more than twice the area of any April this century (1.79 million acres).

The United States also had 875 preliminary reports of tornadoes in April. The old record for a single month was 542 in May 2003.

While Kentucky has 22.05 inches of rain from February to April, Texas had just 1.69 inches for the same period.

NOAA also reports the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for April was the seventh warmest on record ad 57.76 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.06 degrees above the 20th century average.

"This was the 35th consecutive April with global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average," NOAA reports.

On the local level

Meanwhile, county crews are working to repair storm damage that occurs more frequently than in past years. Wednesday, May 25, county crews were out until 9:30 p.m. cutting trees downed in strong winds near Couch. Also that night, golf ball-sized hail was reported in the county.

Federal Emergency Management Agency inspectors toured the county last week to assess damage from the April and May flooding.

Wrenfrow said the county likely will not know for some time about the damage total as FEMA is occupied now with the devastating May 22 tornado in Joplin.

"In 2008, we had a lot of flood damage, but I believe this time we had more," he said.

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Changing weather extremes?

On August 10, 1936, Ozark AR recorded 120 (75 years ago). Missouri's historical high was on July 14, 1954 - 114 at both Warsaw and Union. For the low temperature records, Pond AR (was a town between Hoxie and Bono - map coordinates of Lat: 36.13 Lon: -90.92) a balmy -29 on Feb. 13, 1905. Equally steamy, Missouri enjoyed a -40 on Feb. 13, 1905 (again recorded at Warsaw).

I don't know about Missouri's Oregon County but Calico Rock received 48 inches of snow on March 9, 1918. As for record rainfall, check out why Calico is currently located atop the bluff rather than where it was originally - and when. Calico's got a new museum - pack a picnic lunch.

Meanwhile, turn your speakers up (if you like Johnny Cash) you can enjoy listening about an extreme weather related event from 1927.


-- Posted by HDucker on Sat, Jun 4, 2011, at 4:13 PM

Please, don't blame it on global warming it makes you sound as ignorant as Al Gore.

-- Posted by Basser on Mon, Jun 6, 2011, at 9:00 AM

Hope you're not implying me Basser. I'm not riding the current "Global Warming Tour Bus" but that's not saying the globe doesn't periodically (and wildly) shift mean climactic eras. Geologically speaking, there's too much evidence - our recent Ice Age for instance.

Oddly enough - if you check out what ?Professor? Hanson was saying back in the 70s, he wasn't saying it's getting hotter like he is now - nope, back then he was warning it was getting colder.

-- Posted by HDucker on Mon, Jun 6, 2011, at 2:26 PM

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