Field Guides

Missouri’s Weather and Climate

Note: Safety tips will be underlined.

First off, what is the difference between weather and climate?

One can think of weather and climate in terms of time; weather constitutes the day-by-day (short term), while climate is a holistic look at a region’s weather over the years (long term) (Vipul, 2009). It can also be thought of as a spontaneous analysis vs. an average.


Given its inland location, Missouri is highly prone to temperature extremes (Decker, 2015). Missouri consequently deals with inclement weather quite regularly. Missouri is affected in some capacity by the following:

Storms and Thunderstorms

A storm is a disturbance in the weather, which can arise from local surface heating or cold front turbulence (Ludlum, 1991). A column of warm air rises and amalgamates into a thunderstorm cell. Generally occuring later in the day, thunderstorms come with lightning – brilliant sparks between oppositely charged particles – that strike from sky to earth. A buildup of electrons is seen in cumulonimbus clouds and these electrons, seeking desperately to get away from like charges in the cloud, hurtle towards the ground (Ludlum, 1991). In case of lightning, one should avoid water, open fields, windows, and tall objects; you should get indoors as quickly as possible. The thunder that accompanies lightning is emitted via expanding pressure waves caused by lightning’s release of energy.

Hurricanes and Tornados

Forutnately, because Missouri isn’t close to any oceans, it’s only hit by remenants of hurricanes every 2 to 3 years (Guinan, 2015). However, it does face tornados. Tornados are extremely violent and often cause structural damage and cause power outages. Tornadoes occur when cold air traps warm air below it; the warm air tries to rises and (being trapped on a horizontal plane) begins to spin (Redd, 2012). Tornadoes vary in intensity: funnel clouds and whirlwinds are the lowest magnitude, sweeping up leaves and such in a local area. Dust devils and sand devils are often taller and whirl around dust or sand concentrated air (Ludlum, 1991). In the case of a tornado, one should seek shelter immediately and cover up.

Snow and Ice

While a major Missourian snowstorm/blizzard happens about once per decade, snowfall is common in the winter months (Arguez, 2010). Snowfall occurs when excessive moisture and freezing temperatures mix. The majority of snow falls over December, January, and February in Missouri, with north county winter averages of around 18 to 24 inches of snow (Decker, 2015) and St. Louis averaging around 17 inches of snow a year ( Snow on the ground induces unique behaviors and conditions. For example, one can have temporary snow blindness, when the the mass of snowy surfaces reflect sunlight and blind a viewer. Snowburn, too, commonly occurs when snow reflects the sun’s rays and actually burns the skin (much like a sunburn) (Ludlum, 1991).  Some of the best methods for beating the cold include layering up, consuming lots of calories, and sticking to materials like wool over cotton.


A flood can spring from a variety of sources: excessive raining, snowmelt, tropical storms, and more (Ludlum, 1991). Particularly dangerous are flash floods, which can occur when heavy rains overload slender rivers and streams in mountainous terrain. A flood then crops up very quickly and strikes with minimal warning. Missouri’s most notable flood is likely the 2011 Missouri River floods. The floods impacted Missourian towns Kansas City and Jefferson City. Over the course of all the states affected, the total damage caused exceeded $1 billion (Bailey, David, and Hendee, 2011). In the case of a flood, one should avoid water at all costs and seek higher ground.



Missouri’s predominantly flat landscape (excluding the Ozarks) of nearly 70,000 square miles is prone to extreme temperatures (Harris, 2015). Wayne L. Decker of the Missouri Climate Center classifies Missouri as having a “continental type of climate marked by strong seasonality.” The basic pattern, then, is that summers are hot and winters are cold. When thinking of Missouri, it’s important to recognize that the climate varies by region; a diagonal line can be thought to divide the northwest and southeast, as the two have noticeably different climates.


July and August summertime highs in the day have averaged around 87 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit statewide in the past (Decker, 2015). Summer temperatures rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher an average of 40 to 50 days in the north and 50 to 60 days in the south of Missouri. Fascinatingly enough, highly urbanized areas like St. Louis have amplified climates (of a few degrees hotter than other cities) due to atmospheric particulates (Decker, 2015).


Wintertime averages are closer to the mid 20’s  (Harris, 2015). The northern half of Missouri and the Ozarks average around 100 to 110 days of below freezing temperates in the winter months. Winter nighttimes can become quite cold, dipping into subzero temparatures a handful of times per winter (up to 5 in northern counties and around 2 in southern counties). While this doesn’t happen every winter, it’s certainly a possibility and does happen.

Autumn and Spring are generally more temperate. Mean temperatures in the mid-50 degrees Fahrenheit land solidly between summer’s heat and winter’s chill (Decker, 2015).


Finally, we must touch upon precipitation. Annual precipitation is higher in the southeast with a mean of 50 inches, and lower in the northwest with a mean of 34 inches (Decker, 2015). Northwestern Missouri is more affected by the continental nature of the climate and thus has erratic precipitation spikes in some months, while southeastern Missouri is more independent and consistent. Along with precipitation comes snow, ice, and hail as well.


Kubina, 2005

Cirrus Clouds

Cirrus clouds occur extremely high above the contiguous U.S. (about 16,500 feet!) and are notable for their wispy form and rippling strands. Cirrus clouds, particularly cirrostratus, are also suggestive of moisture at high altitudes. (Ludlum, 1991). In the picture on the right, one can note the tendrils that jut out from the main body formation of the cloud and then fade off. These wisps are the strongest giveaway of a cirrus cloud. It can also be noted that cirrus clouds naturally form on other planets (e.g. Saturn and Mars) as well (Ludlum, 1991).

García, 2012

Stratus Clouds

Stratus clouds are grayer and closer to the earth than cirrus clouds. At around 6,500 feet from the earth, stratus clouds are can be thought of like a fog. While they can bring mild precipitation (drizzle, light snow grains, and ice crystals), they are rarely accompanied by more serious conditions. Stratus clouds are often hazy, fairly uniform, and expansive, blanketing a region in gray.

Kubina, 2006

Cumulus Clouds

One should rejoice at the sign of a plain cumulus cloud, as it can be indicative of nice, stable weather. Their form is as follows: they generally round and curve at the top, but are given foundation by a flat base. However, certain subsets of cumulus clouds – specifically cumulonimbus and cumulus congestus – bring with them stormy weather and strong winds. Compared to the other two cloud types mentioned, cumulus clouds vary greatly in terms of height above the earth (Ludlum, 1991).

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Works Cited

Arguez, Anthony. “NOAA’s 1981-2010 Climate Normals.” Http:// National Climatic Data Center, 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <>.

Bailey, David, and David Hendee. “The Mighty Missouri River: The Flooding and the Damage Done.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 03 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. <>.

Decker, Wayne L. “Climate of Missouri.” Missouri Climate Center. University of Missouri, n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2015. <>.

Diebel, Norda, and Kretchmer. “WeatherSpark Beta.” Average Weather For St. Louis, Missouri, USA. WeatherSpark, 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <>.

García, Luis Jou. “San Diego Low Stratus Clouds.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 2 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <>.

Guinan, Pat. “Tropical Storms in Missouri.” Missouri Climate Center. University of Missouri, n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2015. <>.

Harris, Amy. “What Is the Climate in Missouri?” Travel Tips. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. <>.

Kubina, Jeff. “Cirrus Cloud.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 3 Sept. 2005. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <>.

Kubina, Jeff. “Cumulus Clouds.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 13 May 2006. Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <>.

Ludlum, David M. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1991. Print.

Redd, Nola Taylor. “Tornado Facts: Causes, Formation & Staying Safe.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 10 July 2012. Web. 08 Oct. 2015. <>.

Vipul, Singh. Longman Vistas 7. India: Pearson Education, 2009. Print.