By James Baughn
If you enjoy natural disasters and crazy weather, then the last ten years have been great. The rest of us, however, are more than happy to close the book on a decade filled with ice storms, tornadoes, floods, windstorms, inland hurricanes, hailstorms, and even an earthquake.
As we look forward to the 2010s, a decade that is hopefully FEMA-free, here's a rundown of the major weather events that struck Southeast Missouri during the last decade.
April 2002 tornado outbreak
One tornado is bad enough, but a weeklong outbreak is madness. An ugly weather pattern set the stage for multiple rounds of thunderstorms. The first twister raked through Van Buren and Ellsinore before striking Pine Cone Estates north of Poplar Bluff. Another tornado started near US 67 and bulldozed through Marquand.
Four days later, a tornado struck south of Marble Hill, killing a 12-year-old boy. The same storm system also dropped tornadoes as it rammed through Illinois and Kentucky. A meteorologist with a gift of understatement described the outbreak as "fairly unusual."
May 2002 flooding
The storm outbreak in April led to serious flooding in May. Lake Wappapello reached its second highest crest on record, almost overtopping the emergency spillway. Highway 67 at Greenville was closed, sending drivers on a detour half-way across the state.
Water laps against sandbags placed on top of the Lake Wappapello emergency spillway as the lake crests (Photo by James Baughn)
Meanwhile, the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau reached 45.7 feet, the 4th highest crest on record. Road construction on I-55, plus the closing of most other crossings of the Diversion Channel, led to an epic traffic jam between Cape and Scott City.
May 2003 Jackson tornado
Cape Girardeau County dodged the 2002 tornadoes, but the luck ended in 2003. An F-3 tornado ripped through the middle of Jackson during the evening of May 6. The final tally: 312 structures damaged; 22 homes destroyed; and 14 homes, two businesses and a large part of Immaculate Conception Catholic School condemned. Miraculously, nobody was killed or seriously injured.
The May 7, 2003, Southeast Missourian front page said it best in two words: "JACKSON STRUCK"
The same thunderstorm complex also dropped a weaker tornado a few minutes later, causing damage between Oriole and Trail of Tears State Park.
Christmas 2004 snowfall
White Christmases are rare in these parts, but Christmas 2004 was plenty white. Cape Girardeau saw 9 inches of snow and "near-blizzard" conditions on Dec. 22.
Christmas 2004 was the proverbial Winter Wonderland (photo by James Baughn).
April 2005 thunderstorms
April 2005 brought a different kind of accumulation: hail. A thunderstorm moving through Jackson spawned a funnel cloud, but the real excitment came as a deluge of small hail covered the ground and even caused "haildrifts."
Sharon Pinkerton submitted this photo of the hail behaving an awful lot like snow.
The twisters kept on coming in 2006. During the evening of March 11, an F-3 tornado blasted across Highway 61 south of St. Mary, killing two people and destroying several homes, before causing more havoc in Illinois.
The next month, on April 2, a major tornado outbreak spawned 66 reported tornado touchdowns across the country, including an F-3 monster that started in Arkansas, crossed the Missouri Bootheel, and entered Tennessee. This twister ravaged Caruthersville, destroying "more than half the city."
Southeast Missourian front page from April 4: "TOWN CRUSHED"
Finally, in September, a massive F-4 tornado rammed through Crosstown before crossing the Mississippi River in a pattern eerily similar to the St. Mary tornado.
The scene in Crosstown the following day (photo by Don Frazier)
2007 crop losses
2007 was a rollercoaster year, featuring unseasonable warmth in March, a major freeze in April, and then record heat over the summer. In mid-March, a particularly crazy week saw temperatures above 70°F at Cape Girardeau, following by snow showers, and then another heat wave. April brought six consecutive nights below freezing, including a record low of 18°F. The outcome of the wheat crop was called "dire."
It didn't get any better during the summer. Only 0.01 of an inch of rain fell during August (a new record), part of a major drought that struck the Midwest and South. July and August also featured a record number of consecutive days above 90°F, peaking at a blistering high of 103°F on Aug. 16.
2008 ice storm
In retrospect, the ice storm of 2008 was only a warmup for the 2009 edition, but it was still a mess at the time. The daylight hours of Feb. 11 brought a most peculiar phenomenon: thundersleet. The heavy sleet was then followed by freezing rain. And more freezing rain. And even more freezing rain.
By 11 PM, it started to rain something else: tree limbs. The inch-plus of ice accumulation caused branches to crash with alarming regularity. Blue flashes of light could be seen in the distance: were these lightning strikes or transformers blowing? Or both? A war zone may have been more peaceful.
Ice, ice everywhere (Photo by James Baughn)
March 2008 rainstorm
It's not unusual to break weather records. But the water that fell from the sky on March 18 didn't just break a record, it completely annihilated it. Officially, 11.49 inches of rain fell on that day at the Cape Girardeau Airport, but the rain continued into the next day, for a grand total of over 13 inches.
This radar estimate shows large swaths of pinks and purples, areas that received over 10 inches.
The "Mother of All Rainstorms" caused extensive flash flood damage at Piedmont, Poplar Bluff, Marble Hill, Allenville, and many other Missouri towns, plus longer-term flooding along the Mississippi River and Diversion Channel.
Who can forget Aaron Eisenhauer's famous Fedex Rescue photo?
Sept. 2008 remnants of Hurricane Ike
Hurricane Ike wasn't nearly the monster storm as predicted when it came ashore in Texas, but the cyclone held together surprisingly well as it swept across the Midwest on Sept. 14. The widespread winds and heavy rain led to problems throughout eastern Missouri.
Jan. 2009 ice storm
This is the storm that needs little introduction, the historic event that joins the "Blizzard of '79" in the Bad Weather Hall of Fame. While Cape Girardeau missed the worst of the storm (mostly), folks to the south were not so lucky.
The newspaper front cover from Jan. 29
May 8, 2009, windstorm
It wasn't a tornado. It wasn't a microburst. It resembled a hurricane, complete with "eye" and spiral bands, but the weather service doesn't want us to call it an inland hurricane.
On radar, the storm certainly appeared hurricane-ish.
It was classifieds as a derecho, a crazy storm that brought hurricane-like winds to a wide area north of Cape Girardeau.
The high winds damaged a building at Henschel Manufacturing Co. in Sedgewickville. (Photo by Fred Lynch)