Destruction in Phelps County. Photo courtesy of Rolla Fire Department.

Several storms entered Missouri in the early hours of New Year’s Eve, spawning 17 tornadoes, killing four.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kramper says the late December thunderstorms might have caught many Missourians off-guard, but the weather service saw them developing well before they entered the state.

“So, overall, we’re looking like we did a fairly good job in getting people notice that this would happen,” Kramper, located in the NWS St. Louis office, says. “So then it comes down to the individual citizen themselves. Were they checking on the weather? Were they paying attention to these things?”

The NWS has settled on an official count of tornadoes. The storms that developed in Kansas and Oklahoma then moved into Missouri late Thursday night and early Friday morning spawned eight tornadoes in southern and south-central Missouri. A storm that killed three in Arkansas hit the Branson area, damaging home and destroying docks on Table Rock Lake. A tornado touched down in the Ft. Leonard Wood area. Tornadoes took the lives of two in Dent County and two others in Phelps County. The severe weather traveled roughly up I-44, hitting the St. Louis region. The NWS counts nine tornadoes in its St. Louis region, plus another touched down on the Illinois side.

Visit this NWS site for more on the storms in the Springfield region and here for the St. Louis region.

State Public Safety Department spokesman Mike O’Connell says though the storms turned deadly, it could have been much worse.

“There were those three initial fatalities and then there was one person who was critical. And all of the other injuries, perhaps miraculously, were minor injuries,” O’Connell says.

The resident critically injured on Friday died Saturday.

O’Connell says federal assessment teams will begin surveying the damage Tuesday in an effort to place a monetary value on the destruction. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration will form four teams to survey damage in St. Louis and St. Louis County as well as the counties of Franklin, Phelps, Dent, Carter, Polk, Webster, Christian and Stone.

“And then the decision is made is it high enough that we can request federal assistance?” O’Connell says.

O’Connell expects it to take at least a week to place a monetary value on the destruction left in the wake of the storms.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:15 MP3]

DPS photos on the storm damage