Missouri is a beautiful state covered in mountains, forests, and grassy plains. Like Tennessee, it shares a border with 8 other states and is also known as the friendliest state in the nation.
In Missouri, you can find over 6,000 caves and the only cave restaurant in the United States. This is why it has earned the nickname ‘the Cave State.’
Another more popular nickname you may know it referred to as is the ‘Show-Me State.’ This nickname was acquired after Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver made the statement “I’m from Missouri and you’ve got to show me” in 1899.
Missouri is known for its rich culture and beautiful architecture. You can find many jazz clubs, art museums, amazing food, and breweries. Kansas City is especially interesting with more fountains than any other city in the world (with the exception of Rome), the most miles of freeway per capita for a metropolis, and more miles of boulevards than Paris. I’m sure it wouldn't be difficult to get lost exploring.
Just like the other US states, however, there is one downfall to the Show-Me State, and that is that it’s not immune to natural disasters. Several disasters happen in Missouri, but the people are resilient nonetheless.
What natural disasters does Missouri have?
Missouri’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, floods, severe winter weather, tornadoes, power outages, and earthquakes. Other less significant disasters include landslides, wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat.
Between 1953 and 2019, Missouri declared 71 major disasters, of which severe storms and floods happened the most according to FEMA.
1. Severe Storms
Severe storms in Missouri can come in the form of heavy rainfall, thunder and lightning, high gusty winds, macro-bursts, and hail. Measurable precipitation occurs 100 days of the year, with an average of 34 inches in the northwest and 50 inches in the southeast.
Because of the warm and humid climate, lightning and thunderstorms are frequent during the spring and summer months — especially between April and July— however, they can happen any time of the year if the temperatures allow it. These months also provide a favorable climate for the development of tornadoes.
Only 10% of thunderstorms in the state become severe, meaning that apart from the rain, they also bring in high winds of over 58 mph and hail larger than 0.75 inches in diameter. These storms generally occur in one location for 30 to 60 minutes.
Even though some of these storms are short in duration, they can be powerful enough to cause significant damage to life and property. Missouri ranks among the top ten US states when it comes to lightning-related deaths.
Hail, on the other hand, hasn’t claimed many lives but it is known for denting vehicles, breaking windows and windshields, and damaging roofs. The largest hail stone in Missouri was discovered near Meadville on May 24, 2004. It had a diameter of 6 inches and a circumference of 16.5 inches! I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be outdoors when chunks of ice are literally falling from the sky.
You’ve probably heard the saying “When thunder roars, go indoors.” This cute rhyme could save your life. Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles outside of a storm cloud, so don’t underestimate nature’s power. When you see a storm approaching, find refuge indoors until the storm has passed— usually it’s just for an hour or so, and then you can get back to enjoying your outdoor activities.
Due to its proximity to the Missouri river, the Show-Me State has a significant risk of flooding. Most flooding occurs as a result of heavy precipitation, rapid snowmelt, overflowing rivers, levee damage, and dam failure.
One of the most devastating floods in Missouri’s history occurred between June and July 1951. This event is known as the Great Flood of 1951. The levee system was unable to withstand the amount of water, so Kansas City endured severe flooding. Infrastructure and stockyards were destroyed, over 518,000 people were displaced, and 17 people were killed. The cost in damages exceeded $935 million (1951 USD). The 1951 flood helped the state implement new technologies to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.
Another significant flood occurred in 1993. This flood set many state records.
- It was the longest in terms of duration— Heavy rain events began in April and didn’t end until October.
- It was the largest in terms of inundated area — Over a million acres flooded, most of which was farmland, and 75 towns were completely submerged underwater.
- It was the worst in terms of crop and property damage — Over 50,000 homes and 1,000 levee systems were damaged or destroyed. After the waters receded, homes and farmlands were left covered in a thick layer of sand and topsoil.
- It resulted in the largest number of people displaced — That is, nearly 54,000 evacuees.
- It set the record for the highest water levels — The crest reached almost 50 feet.
- It was one of the costliest floods in the United States — the cost of damages was approximately $15 billion (1993 USD) plus over $1 billion in agricultural losses.
Without a doubt, this was one of the most devastating floods in the United States. Missouri was not the only state affected but it sustained a bulk of the effects. This flood was responsible for the life of 50 people, 13 of which were from the Show-Me State.
Missourians are very familiar with flood events, therefore the need to have an emergency plan shouldn’t even be questioned. In our flood preparedness guide, we discuss mitigation strategies to protect your home, as well as how to stay safe during and after. Get your free checklists here!
3. Winter Storms
Winters in Missouri can be severe, but due to its landlocked location, prologued periods of cold are not common. During the winter season, Missourians can expect freezing rain, drizzle, ice storms, sleet, and snow.
Freezing temperatures can be experienced state-wide, but the northern half of the state is generally colder. The coldest temperature in the Show-Me state was recorded on February 13, 1905, in Warsaw, MO when the thermometer reached -40°F!
Snow can fall as early as October and as late as May, but the peak snowfall season is between December and February. The northern half of the state gets the most snow with an average of 18 to 24 inches, while the southern half of the state usually doesn’t get more than 10 inches per season.
One of the worst ice storms began on January 12, 2007, and lasted three days. When all was said and done, over an inch and a half of ice had covered many parts of the Show-Me State. The weight of the ice caused major damage to trees, power lines, roofs, and infrastructure. Over 200,000 people were left in the dark amid freezing temperatures for several days to weeks.
The February Blizzard of 2011 was another memorable storm that occurred in Missouri’s recent history. Initially, a sheet of ice blanketed parts of the state, but then that was followed by 18 inches of snow. People were snowed in for several days, schools had to close, public transportation shut down, and a state of emergency was declared.
Winter storms can be brutal, but you can mitigate the effects if you’re prepared with a plan to shelter in place. Your emergency kit should include food, water, and other basic provisions to help you survive three to fourteen days without outside assistance. As was the case during both of the events mentioned, power outages are side-effects of severe storms, so be prepared for that as well.
The Show-Me state records anywhere between 30 to 45 tornadoes in any given year. Approximately 8 of these are strong (F2) to violent (F5).
Tornados can occur any time of the year but are most common during the spring, summer, and fall months — March through June is peak tornado season. The month of May averages both the highest death toll and greatest frequency, and they’re most likely to occur between noon and midnight.
The costliest and deadliest tornado in Missouri was the Joplin tornado that occurred on the evening of May 22, 2011. The multiple-vortex EF5 tornado reached wind speeds of more than 200 mph, lasted 38 minutes, and had a width that extended nearly a mile in diameter. It damaged or destroyed over 8,000 residences and businesses, injured over 1,000 people, and caused 161 fatalities. The cost in damages exceeded $2.8 billion (2011 USD).
Under the right weather conditions, a tornado can develop within minutes. Since you don’t have much time to prepare once the sirens go off, it’s important to become prepared way ahead of time.
In this guide, you can learn what to do before and after a tornado as well as how to stay safe in the midst of one.
5. Power Outages
The most common reason for power outages in Missouri is linked to summer and winter storms, in which significant portions of the local transmission grids have collapsed.
One of the largest outages occurred in July 2006 after a series of severe thunderstorms, strong gusty winds, and high temperatures pummeled the state. It affected approximately 2.5 million customers around the greater St. Louis metropolitan area primarily.
It seems like an impossible thing to have to live without electricity for a few days or more...until the moment it happens and we have no choice but to become resilient. Luckily, there are steps you can take now to ensure you and your family stay safe and are able to mitigate the effects of a long-term lapse of electricity. Learn how to prepare for a power outage here!
When you think of states that are affected by earthquakes, the Show-Me State is perhaps not the first that comes to mind. Surprisingly enough, Missouri experiences several earthquakes on a weekly basis, however, most of them are not felt, and even the strongest of these shakers hardly ever exceed a magnitude of 3.5. The reason for these quakes is that a major fault runs through Southeast Missouri.
The New Madrid Seismic Zone is 150 miles long and is capable of causing a mega quake. The USGS estimates that there could be a 28-46% chance that a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake can rattle the area within the next 40 years. If those predictions come true, it’s possible that St.Louis, and the surrounding regions, will suffer severe damage.
Earthquakes happen without much warning so it’s vital to have a preparedness plan if you’re in an area near fault lines. In order to prepare for a shaker, you should learn where are safe places to take cover. Once the earthquake stops, be aware that aftershocks are possible, and in some cases, they can be stronger than the first shock you felt.
Missouri has approximately 549 peaks and is part of three mountain ranges: the US Interior Highlands, the St.Francois Mountains, and the Ozarks. Its highest peak is Taum Sauk Mountain in the St.Francois Mountains with an elevation of 1,772 feet.
Landslides can occur alongside unstable slopes and hilly areas. They can be triggered by periods of heavy precipitation, saturated soil, construction, and erosion, among other things.
While no major landslides have occurred in Missouri, the northern half of the state is more vulnerable. If you’re interested in learning about landslide mitigation strategies and safety tips, check out our complete guide.
Missouri has a low to moderate risk of wildfires, but that doesn’t mean that they’re non-existent. The peak fire season begins around the end of October and lasts through April.
The majority of the fires in the state are human-caused, specifically by carelessly burning debris, arson, smoking, and equipment malfunction. Only a small percentage is caused by lightning and other natural disasters.
Thanks to its humid climate, wildfires don’t burn with the same intensity as other states with arid climates like California. In a single year, an average of 5,000 acres of woodland burns in Missouri.
If you live in a forested area, check out these wildfire prevention tips and mitigation strategies to become prepared ahead of time. Also, download the safety checklist for future reference.
9. Drought and Extreme Heat
The Show-Me state is not known for prologued periods of extreme heat, but heat waves can occur from time to time. As of 2021, the state averages 15 days of above-average temperatures but some sources suggest that it will increase to 60 days by the year 2050. Humidity is also a contributing factor that can make summer temperatures feel hotter.
The hottest temperature was recorded as 118°F in Warsaw, MO on July 14, 1954. If you’re concerned about heat waves, check out our guide and learn how you can become prepared.
Missouri experiences occasional periods of drought as well. The longest drought in recent history lasted approximately 99 weeks. It began in July 2002 and ended mid-May 2004. As of the writing of this article, only 3.6% of state land is under abnormally dry conditions. During extended periods of drought, be a good steward of the water you have and conserve as much as you can.
Natural disaster resources for Missouri
Missouri gets hit by several different types of natural disasters, so it’s wise to become prepared for what may come. The following resources are highly recommended if you’re looking for a place to start.
- My go-to app for weather alerts and notifications is the NOAA Weather App. With that app, you’ll get real-time warnings and alerts, specifically as it pertains to your current location.
- There’s a plethora of information out there about preparing for disasters but you should keep in mind that each disaster is different. In other words, there’s no exact recipe that will work for all disasters. Then again, we know that having to prepare for multiple disasters can be a bit overwhelming. However, we’ve made it our mission to help you become resilient when faced with any disaster, so we’ve built easy-to-understand guides that focus on each disaster type. Find all of our disaster guides here and learn mitigation strategies, safety tips, and much more.
- If you’re serious about emergency preparedness and want to grow your knowledge and experience, check out the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). This government organization helps train communities to become resilient in the face of disasters. They provide free classes and simulations taught by professionals in your community. Find your local CERT here.
- While the news only puts natural disasters on their headlines for a few short days, the effects of disasters last months, if not years. Missouri’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is an organization that works hard to help communities in need, especially during the beginning stages. If you have a business or run an organization that is able to provide resources in post-disaster times, be sure to connect with MOVOAD.
- If you need assistance, whether in the preparedness or recovery stages of disasters, check out the State Emergency Management Agency of the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the disasters that affect Missouri.
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Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!