Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => Routes => Topic started by: Gypsea on January 15, 2020, 05:29:18 pm

Title: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: Gypsea on January 15, 2020, 05:29:18 pm
I am working on some routes in Missouri, arriving by Amtrak to St Louis.  A big loop to include Katy Trail, Rock Island Spur, maybe part of Route 66, part of Trans Am...somewhere close to 800-1000 miles total. My concern is the weather in Missouri, like tornadoes and electrical storms.  Based on what I have read, May is the worst time to go.  Is this true?  I can stand some heat, but it's either all of May or middle of June until middle of July.

Can the forum enlighten me on the weather including will I find safe spots along the way?  Also, beyond the Katy Trail, I still want to camp most of the time. Is that possible?

Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: John Nettles on January 16, 2020, 10:34:36 am
I am in Oklahoma and Missouri typically gets what we get, just hours later.

Yes, May is the month for tornadoes and violent storms. You will have a 25% chance of "rain" on any given day in May I would guess.  However, "rain" typically lasts only for 30 minutes or so.  So while the forecast calls for a 90% chance of rain, you may not even get wet if you see it coming on the radar and duck into a cafe for that second breakfast or afternoon ice cream while it passes. 

As far as the storms go, yes, they can be quite exciting if you are actually in one.  For instance, I have seen quite a few tornadoes from as close as 1/4 mile away and all is well.  If you are directly hit by one, then that is another story.  That said, if you follow the locals' lead, you will be fine.  If the locals are going about their business when the sirens are going off, do not worry, seriously.  Sirens are to give a warning that there is a possibility (or an actual one if spotted) of a tornado in the "area" (up to 30 miles away).  The locals keep well aware of what is going on and a tornado may be 10 miles away but it is headed away from you so all is well (at least for you).  The forecasters here are actually pretty good and if a tornado actually touches down, there are enough spotters around they know within a 1/2 mile of where it is.  Listen to local radio and know the county and area you are in if things look bad.

Honestly, the best thing to do is shelter in a restaurant, library, hotel, etc. if the weather radar shows red or darker storms.  Wait until it passes then carry on your way.  Red storms have very strong rain.  Yellow and green is rain but not much else.

Another really good thing to remember is be aware of hail.  If during the daytime the sky is "green", you should really seek shelter as there is a massive hail storm nearby. 

Don't let any of this scare you, just be aware of your surroundings.  As a side note, a regional group of bike tourists are planning on touring in Missouri for about 4-7 days this upcoming mid to late May along parts of the Katy and Rock Island trails and we are more concerned about how "slow" the Katy and Rock Island gravel surface gets when wet.  The tornadoes do not even factor in to our decision where to ride.

Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: Gypsea on January 16, 2020, 01:33:27 pm
Thanks for the encouraging information, John.

Would I usually be close to towns, shelters, or farms?

Are you familiar with the Route 66 route?  I think I would probably take the Katy and Rock Island going west from St Louis, then make my way to Joplin and return along the Route 66 AC route, something like that. Wondering about camping options returning east to St Louis.
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: John Nettles on January 16, 2020, 03:40:41 pm
"Close" is a subjective term.  You should always be close (within a mile) of something.  On BR66, there are many more services and places to take shelter but the route is MUCH more difficult.

As mentioned previously, keep an eye on the radar and do what the locals do.  If you see a "red" storm approaching, take shelter.  You usually have an hour or so notice. I really would not worry about it too much. 

As far as camping goes, your most difficult places will be between Clinton and Joplin as there are not as many places around there.  You might have to get a hotel but even that is limited so be sure to do a bit of research and know where you want to stay.  The roads are hilly between Clinton and Joplin.  If you have time, consider going into KS and loop south there.

Finally, while you do not say where you are coming from, you might consider doing a one-way trip where you end up at an Amtrak station, i.e. St Louis to Newton, KS, or Lincoln, NE.  Additionally, I mostly take one-way trips and use a one-way car rental.  It usually costs only about $100/day for a minivan and I can usually cover two weeks worth of tour in 1 driving day.  This way I am not dependent on making a connection time.  A bonus is most rental car agencies allow no-deposit with no cancellation fees so I have literally cancelled an hour before I was to pick up the car and just rescheduled it for the next day though at a higher rate.

Tailwinds, John

Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: Gypsea on January 16, 2020, 03:51:35 pm
Thanks for additional information! I especially appreciate the storm/weather information and you are helping me get over my paranoia about it.  I'm coming from Portland, Oregon by train, so that in itself is an adventure.  I trained from Portland to Cleveland last year before my tour (blog:, so I'm aware of the pain of the Chicago train station.

I like the suggestion of the vehicle rental and it definitely cuts down on the pressure to be back to catch a train.  I'll check out my maps and consider adding Kansas into the mix.  the 66 route just seemed closer to where the Katy ends but I could get to the Transamerica route and take that from west to east. What makes the BR66 route more difficult?
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: John Nettles on January 17, 2020, 09:20:03 am
The Katy is a rail trail so by nature the hills have been leveled so the biggest incline is around 3%.  Plus it goes along in a river valley so it is fairly flat to begin with.

The BR66 and the TransAm in Missouri are quite hilly.  Lots of steep (10%+ inclines) but short ups and downs; over and over and over and over and over.......

BTW, on the return along BR66, unless you enjoy riding in heavy urban traffic, I personally would head north at St. Clair back to Washington and then back east along the Katy to Hartford in order to avoid riding through St. Louis.

Question:  Out of curiosity, why are you choosing to do a loop in Missouri? Not a bad idea, just curious since you are coming all the way fro Portland to ride it.  Also, since you are arriving by train, have you considered riding from say Omaha to Kansas City (I have a route you can use) to St. Louis via RI/Katy Trail, then over to Indianapolis (I have a route that is similar to the Eastern Express but with less traffic and goes through the "covered bridge" area of Indiana).  This would total about 800 miles, see a wider path of the country, and allow you to take Amtrak both way. You would still have storms though  ;) .

Tailwinds, John

Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: John Nelson on January 17, 2020, 04:35:24 pm
I've done both the TA and BR66 through Missouri. Both routes have about 350 miles in Missouri. Yes, riding through St. Louis on BR66 is an urban challenge, but you do get to see the Arch and eat a Concrete at Ted Drewes. Both routes are hilly, probably about equally so. But you wouldn't come to Missouri unless you liked hills, and the hills are not something you can't handle. You'll get some great pictures of roads that look remarkably like roller coasters.

Yes, my tent almost got blown away by a tornado in Ash Grove in early June. The tornado was 15 miles away in Springfield. So for maybe a hour or two I couldn't leave my tent because my weight was the only thing keeping it there. And yes, my tent nearly floated away as several inches of water rose around it during a torrential rainstorm in Joplin.

There are lots and lots of interesting old motels and bridges along the BR66 route. Missouri is a beautiful state if you like lush growth. The Ozark National Scenic Waterways is at the heart of all that growth.
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: staehpj1 on January 18, 2020, 06:39:27 am
My approach has always been to not worry too much about the stormy season there.  I have ridden across Kansas and Oklahoma in the middle of tornado season and done lots of other outdoor stuff in other settings with high probability of storm activity.  I figure that it is just a risk that you live with.  People live in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma and some of them never see a tornado.  Your odds of seeing one on your tour are pretty low.

I have been caught out in some pretty bad thunderstorms, and hailed on a few times on tour.  The hail and most of the thunderstorms weren't during those peak seasons, but rather during the later portion of Summer so going later isn't even much of a guarantee.

I have also ridden across those areas in the peak of the heat of summer.  Given the choice, being a hater of hot weather, I'd take my chances with the stormy season myself.
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: Gypsea on January 22, 2020, 12:27:32 am
John N - I have some childhood history south of St Louis and thought I'd include that and just thought a loop might be worthwhile.  I like your suggestion, so I may try it on another adventure.

Thanks to others who have given your thoughts and suggestions!  I have connected with a Warm Showers host in St Louis who is also helping with suggestions and well, I guess my tornado concern is not such a big deal.
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: Twitch on February 19, 2020, 04:06:39 pm
I live in the St Louis area and have ridden the Katy Trail in May. I thought it was a great time. Weather is good, not too hot.  I haven’t done any other stretches in Missouri other than continuing off the Katy heading east into Illinois which is also a nice trip.
Title: Re: Missouri touring in May?
Post by: Gypsea on February 20, 2020, 08:18:58 pm
Thanks for your information, Twitch.  I'm set to arrive in St Louis on April 30 and will ride east on the Katy from there, then into Kansas for a bit, then return via some version of the Route 66.