It’s hard to imagine that only a couple weeks ago the temperatures were reminiscent of summer, an inviting 70 degrees. Even more unbelievable is that only a week from those unusually warm summery days was a twister outbreak in late November, ripping across southeast Missouri before devastating the small town of Brookport in southern Illinois.
What’s even more shocking is placing this weather in perspective of last year. Pat Guinan, Extension Climatologist with the University of Missouri Commercial Agriculture program, said the single best word to describe the year 2012 was "hot."
“2012 was historic in regard to the drought and the heat that we experienced, not only in Missouri, but much of the central part of the country,” Guinan said. “It was one of the worst droughts in decades that impacted the middle part of America.”
This year stands in contrast to its predecessor, with above normal temperatures experienced only in January, February, and September. There was so much precipitation that this April experienced Mississippi River flooding that almost reached levels untouched since 1973.
The tornadoes that killed seven, including three in Brookport, appeared so late in this year that they came as a shock to many. This does not surprise Guinan, who said tornadoes are commonly expected in the summer.
“But that does not mean that they can’t happen any day of the year,” Guinan said. “In fact, when we look back through weather records we do find occasions or occurrences of tornado outbreaks that have occurred during the winter season.”
So if they are not exactly rare and unusual, where did these destructive cyclones come from? Tony Lupo, Atmospheric Science professor from the University of Missouri, said it was a matter of poor climatic timing between a forceful cold front from the north catching a slowly retreating warm climate in the south.
“We had an event where we just happen to have a lot of moisture around when we had the collision between two very different air masses. And that resulted in a larger tornado outbreak,” Lupo said.
No one should expect the weather to calm down anytime soon, as the weather looks to continue swinging from hot to cold like a wild pendulum. Lupo predicts that the overall pattern of winter weather will be similar to what we have experienced at the end of November and beginning of December. That means more unusually warm days followed by very harsh Arctic blasts that cover the region in ice and snow.
The year 2014 is shaping up to be very similar to what we have just experienced. This does not mean things have settled down in Missouri, and as Lupo explained, the weather pendulum will only swing wilder, dipping further into the cold and warm weather extremes.
“Missouri weather can be very well described as being bipolar,” Lupo said. “We either have very warm conditions or very cool conditions. And on the precipitation side we either have it very moist or very dry and that’s just because we’re in the middle of the continent where the weather is far more volatile.”
The temperature locally and globally are still rising and have done so far a while according to climatologist Pat Guinan.
“Here in Missouri, we have been warming since 1998. Globally, we have been warming for nearly forty years,” Guinan said.
These warming temperatures may continue to drive weather to become even more erratic. This will cause phenomena like last year’s drought and this year’s autumn tornado outbreak to become more common in the future.
In the meantime, prepare for a roller coaster of hot and cold temperatures as we settle into the winter months.