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Storm worst since 1967, weather service says

Storm worst since 1967, weather service says

ST. LOUIS • The National Weather Service reports that the storm that ripped through the region Friday was the worst it has seen in more than 40 years.

The last time the area saw such severe and widespread damage was on Jan. 24., 1967, when a tornado traveled 21 miles across St. Louis County following an eerily similar path.

That was the fourth-worst tornado in history to hit the St. Louis metropolitan area, according to the weather service.

"People are going to remember this for a long time," said Jim Sieveking, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

A storm path producing tornadoes on Friday traveled from Maryland Heights all the way across the Mississippi River to Granite City, leaving a wake of destroyed homes, fallen trees and downed wires.

Its path was only about five to 10 miles off from the tornado of 1967, Sieveking said.

Lambert International Airport, smack in the middle of that path, was hit hard, losing part of its roof and seeing its windows shattered throughout the main terminal. There were multiple injuries, none serious. The airport was closed down and officials are working to have it reopened by Sunday.

The weather service has confirmed tornadoes touched down in New Melle, Bridgeton and near Granite City. Survey teams are out inspecting the damage, to confirm suspected touchdowns elsewhere along that storm route.

Sieveking said they will be looking for the telltale signs: convergent patterns in the damage, twisting and turning of the tree limbs, houses removed from their foundations.

He said forecasters believe the tornado also touched down in Maryland Heights where they detected swirling debris on their weather radars.

This storm was far worse than the one that hammered Sunset Hills on New Year's Eve, he said. The tornadoes then were from a squall line thunderstorm. Squall lines are famous for their damaging winds but don't usually produce tornadoes — and when they do, they are short-lived, he said.  

Friday was a supercell thunder storm, known for producing long-path tornadoes, hail and damaging winds.

The 1967 storm first touched down in Chesterfield and then headed northeast at 40 miles-per-hour. It was on the ground for 35 minutes, according to the weather service, and left a path of destruction ranging from 50 to 200 yards wide.

There were 216 injuries and three fatalities. Property damage was significant, with 168 homes destroyed, 258 with major damage, and 1485 with minor damage. At least 600 businesses were damaged or destroyed, the weather service reported.

The total damage was estimated to be around 15 million dollars.

Forecasters at the weather service say the region may be at risk for more tornadoes Monday afternoon and evening, when a severe  storm system is expected to move back in.

Until then, the rain will continue, which has officials worried about flash floods. 

"The biggest threat over the next 24 to 48 hours is just how much has fallen," Sieveking said.

"Almost all the rivers are either in flood stage or they're going to reach flood stage just due to the rainfall we've received so far," he said. "You receive additional rainfall and that would just push the crest of the river higher." 

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Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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