Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: weatherhistorian, 5:27 AM GMT on February 15, 2011
Summary to Date (as of February 15th) of Record Snowfalls during the 2010-2011 Season
A major pattern change is taking place across the lower 48 states of the U.S.A. and at least for the time being the never-ending succession of heavy snowstorms that has plagued the Midwest and East Coast seems to have come to an end. I thought it would be a good time to take stock of what has happened record-snow-wise so far this season. This blog is also to compliment Dr. Jeff Masters blog posted on February 11th, “Another amazingly snowy winter for the U.S.”.
Prior to December the fall snow season was a lack luster affair. This all came to the end when extraordinary lake-effect snowfalls plastered upstate New York and southern Ontario, Canada on December 4-9. This was followed by an historic snowstorm in Minnesota and Wisconsin On December 10-12. December 15-23 saw up to 10 feet of snow in California’s Sierra and then the granddaddy snow event buried the Mid-Atlantic States Dec. 25-27. Here is a summary of some of December’s all-time snow records:
Syracuse, New York: All-time single storm record 46.2” December 4-9 (old record 43.4” on March 12-15, 1993);. 72.3” for month is 2nd snowiest month on record (snowiest month was January 2004 with 78.1”).
Eau Claire, Wisconsin: 22.0” on December 11; all-time 24-hour and single storm record (old record 18.0” for 24-hours on Febraury 27, 1893 and for single-storm 18.5” February 22-25, 1929). 17.1” in Minneapolis is one of the top ten greatest storms on record.
Atlantic City, New Jersey: 20.0” on December 26-27; all-time 24-hour snowfall record (old record 18.0” on February 17, 2003). 32.0” at Rahway and Elizabeth, NY is within 3” of New Jersey state record for a 24-hour snowfall. New York City’s 20.0” accumulation 6th greatest snowstorm on record.
Youngstown, Ohio: All-time snowiest month on record with 53.1” (old record 36.4” in January 1999).
Bradley Beach, New Jersey was hammered with a 30” snow accumulation during the December 26-27 snow event. Photo by Janice Hopkins.
One of the snowiest months on record for portions of the Northeast thanks to two major blizzards on January 9-13 and again on January 26-27. Also, a freak lake-effect snowstorm buried South Bend, Indiana on January 5-8. Some of the records broken:
South Bend, Indiana: All-time 24-hour snowfall of 32.4” on January 7-8 (old record 20.0” on January 30, 1909) and all-time single storm record of 38.1” on January 5-8 (old record 32.0” on January 29-31, 1909). The latter was also a state record for INDIANA (old record was 37.0” at La Porte February 14-19, 1958).
Newark, New Jersey: All-time snowiest month on record; 37.4” (old record 33.4” in January 1994).
Hartford, Conecticut: All-time 24-hour and single storm record snow of 24.0” on January 11-12 (old record for 24 hours was 21.9” on February 11-12, 2006 and for single storm 23.5” on February 13-14, 1899). Also, snowiest month on record with 57.0” total (smashing old monthly record of 45.3” in December 1945).
New Haven, Connecticut: All-time 24-hour snowfall of 28.5” on January 11-12 (breaks the old 28.0” record set during the famous March Blizzard of 1888). Also, snowiest single month on record with 56.6” (old record 46.3” in February 1934).
Pittsfield, Massachusetts: All-time 24-hour snowfall of 25.5” on January 12 (old record 24.0” on March 22, 1977). Snowiest month on record with 52.2” (old record 51.7” in December 1969).
Glasgow, Montana:: All-time snowiest month on record with 41.6” (old record 32.9” in January 2004).
New York City, New York: Snowfall of 19.8” on January 26-27 is 8th greatest storm on record and leads to a monthly total of 36.0” the 2nd greatest monthly total on record (snowiest month on record was just last February, 2010 with 36.9” at Central Park). There are 142 years of continuous snow records maintained at this site.
A Times Square, New York City web cam captures the January 26-27 blizzard during its peak ferocity around 1 a.m. on January 27th. The snowfall rate was 4”/hour at this time.
FEBRUARY (as of the 15th)
The great Groundhogs Day blizzard of Feb. 1-3 is ranked as one of the most extreme on record. Another powerful blizzard on February 8-10 strikes Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas with record snowfalls.
The winter advisories map for the blizzard of January 31-February 2 illustrates the vast size of the storm system that affected over 100 million Americans. Graphic from wunderground.com
Chicago, Illinois Third greatest snowfall in history with 21.2" (O'Hare Airport) on January 31-February 2. (Single greatest storm is 23.0" on January 26-27, 1967).
Tulsa, Oklahoma: All-time 24-hour snowfall of 14.0” on January 31-February 1 leads to all-time greatest snow depth of 16.0” by February 2. Also, Tulsa has now had its snowiest single month on record with 22.5” as of February 15 (old record was 19.7” in March 1924).
Arkansas: Almost an all-time state snowfall record for 24-hour and single-greatest-storm was set at Siloam Springs in Benton County with 24.5” of snow on February 9th. One foot of this fell in just 3 hours near Jasper between 5:30-8:30 a.m. The state record still holds at 25.0” at Corning on January 22, 1918.
SEASON TO DATE RECORDS
The following sites have already recorded their all-time snowiest winter season on record as of February 15th:
Tulsa, Oklahoma: 26.6” (old record 25.4” in 1923-1924)
Youngstown, Ohio: 92.4” (old record 85.3” in 1950-1951)
Glasgow, Montana: 80.7” (old record 70.7” in 2003-2004).
NOTE: I will be overseas until March 9th and so will be posting my next blog following my return.
Updated: 5:46 AM GMT on February 15, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 10:16 PM GMT on February 08, 2011
I just finished reading a new book, The Wave; In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey and it inspired me to write this short blog on the subject. The most astonishing fact is that more than 200 supertankers, container ships, and bulk carriers over 350 feet in length have been lost at sea over the past 20 years due to severe weather and huge waves: more than one every two weeks on average. If this happened in the aviation industry it would be front-page news. However, most of these ships are owned by and manned by crews from third world countries and so their loss and the deaths of their crews (that run in the hundreds if not thousands) go unrecorded in the media.
Giant waves may be classified in basically five categories:
1. ‘Big Splashes’: the result of a landslide, volcanic eruption, or calving of a glacier.
2. ‘Tsunamis’: the result of an undersea earthquake.
3. ‘Storm Surges’: the result of a tropical storm or very powerful cyclone.
4. ‘Big Surf’: huge shoreline waves generated by large cyclonic storm systems.
5. ‘Rogue or Freak Waves’: mysterious storm-generated waves that tower two to four times higher than other waves in the vicinity. On very rare occasions the wave occurs without a storm present.
I list, albeit briefly, the most extreme cases of such in modern records.
The biggest splash of all (that scientists are aware of) was that in Lituya Bay, Alaska on July 9,1958. Lituya Bay is an arm of the much larger Glacier Bay in Southeastern Alaska and was carved by retreating glaciers from the Brady Icefield. A 7.3 earthquake caused a massive landslip on the south shore of the bay creating a gigantic wave some 1,740-feet high that swept across the opposite shoreline and Cenotaph Island. Two people camping and fishing in the bay died.
The photo shows an aerial view of a hillside that was inundated by a 1,700-foot wave during the ‘big splash’ following an earthquake-caused landslide in Lituya Bay, Alaska in July 1958. Photo from U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
This map shows Lituya Bay and what the estimated run-up levels of the wave were during the event. Illustration from geology.com
Earthquake-generated tsunamis are, like ‘Big Splashes’, of geologic- rather than meteorologic-origin. The Boxing Day earthquake off the coast of Sumatra (9.3 on the Richter scale) on December 26, 2004 generated what is likely the largest tsunami in modern history. An extensive section of shoreline south of Banda Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra was struck by a tsunami averaging 80 feet in height with a maximum height of 115 feet estimated to have come ashore between Labuhan and Leupung. The run-up was measured some 170 feet in the hills in this region. One city alone, Meulaboh, suffered the worst casualties of all: 40,000 of the 120,000 residents perished. However, tsunamis, like storm surges, are not so much waves as they are walls of water with no ‘back trough’ behind them.
A graphic illsutrating how an 80-foot wave compares to a 6-foot human.
I shall assume you all know what a storm surge is. What the greatest such in modern records might be is debatable. Without doubt the deadliest was that which conquered the Brahmaputra River Delta of Bangladesh on November 12-13, 1970. The surge was some 40 feet high and drowned 300,000-500,000 people. The Great Boha Cyclone remains the deadliest tropical storm in human history. As I mentioned above, storm surges like tsunamis, are walls of water not waves.
This map illustrates the storm surge that occurred during the great Boha Cyclone of November 12, 1970. The graph shows the depth of the storm surge on a scale up to 48 feet high.Graph from WMO ‘Climate into the 21st Century’ published by Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Even higher storm surges have been reported. The famous Bathurst Bay Cyclone of March 5, 1899 apparently crushed Australia’s Queensland State with a 42-foot storm surge according to survivors. This is the record highest storm surge we have corroborated by eyewitnesses.
The largest surf in the world occurs along the northern and eastern shores of the Hawaiian Islands and select locations along the California and Baja of Mexico coast. The biggest waves occur when powerful winter storms in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska generate a sort of ripple effect that streams across the North Pacific and spawn the waves that occasionally crash ashore in the above referenced regions. Of course, the biggest waves don’t actually come ashore but are confined to the reefs and shoals some miles from the actual coastline. Big-wave surfers (well documented by a breathless Ms. Casey) ride 70 and 80-foot monsters and wait for the day that a 100-footer will test their skills. According to Casey’s book the site that has the best potential to produce 100-foot plus big surf is the Cortez Bank, a submerged chain of mountains about 115 miles west of Point Loma, San Diego County, California.
Laird Hamilton, probably the greatest big-wave surfer in the world, at work on what looks like a 70-footer. Still from his movie Laird.
ROGUE OR FREAK WAVES
On February 8, 2000, the British research ship Discovery accurately measured a gigantic 98-foot high wave while on a scientific expedition 155 miles west of the coast of Scotland. The wind had been blowing at 50mph or greater for over 12 continuous hours in the vicinity of the observed wave. This is the highest ‘officially’ measured wave at sea. The U.S.S. Ramapo recorded a 112-foot wave near the Philippines during a typhoon in February 1933 and the report seems legitimate. It has become apparent that such monsters are not as rare as previously thought. Many large vessels have simply vanished after encountering what one presumes were rogue or freak waves. Cruse ships face a serious threat as well: in February 1995 the Queen Elizabeth 2 encountered a rogue wave of some 100 feet (estimated) in The North Atlantic that almost foundered the iconic vessel.
In fact, so many large ships have been lost that it begs the question why nobody seems to care aside from Lloyd’s of London, the premier marine insurance agency.
The supertanker ‘World Glory’ split in half and sank after a 70-foot rogue wave crushed her off the coast of South Africa in 1968. Photo courtesy of South African Sailing Directions.
The Power of the Sea; Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters by Bruce Parker, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey, Random House, 2010. NOTE: This book largely deals with ‘Big Surf’ and the surfing community that seeks out the biggest of the big waves. It does, however, have several good chapters on other super-wave events.
THANKS: To Jerry Alexander for bringing this interesting subject to my attention!
Updated: 11:58 PM GMT on February 08, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 11:34 PM GMT on February 02, 2011
January 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary
Another month of wild weather from around the world has just passed. Highlights include extraordinary snowfall in the Eastern portion of the U.S.A., record floods in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka and record cold in Korea, Manchuria, and Japan.
The biggest story of the month for the United States was a series of tremendous snowstorms in the Mid-Atlantic States and Southern New England. A storm on January 11-12 broke Hartford, Connecticut’s all-time 24-hour snowfall with a 24.0” accumulation. Unofficial amounts of up to 30.5” were reported from the New Haven area. On January 26-27 another blizzard deposited 19.1” in Central Park, New York City, its 8th greatest snowstorm on record and the 3rd top-ten snowfall in just the past year (Central Park has 142 years of records). Overall, this was the single snowiest month on record for Hartford: 57.0” (old record 45.3” in Dec. 1945), New Haven: 56.6” (old record 46.3” in Feb. 1934), and Newark, NJ: 37.4” (old record 33.4” in Jan. 1994). It was New York City’s 2nd snowiest month with a 36.0” total (snowiest month was just last February with 36.9”!).
Another extreme but very localized snow event was South Bend, Indiana’s greatest snowstorm on record with a 24-hour total of 32.2” on Jan. 7-8 and a snowstorm total of 38.1” between the 5th and 8th. The latter was also a single-storm record for the state of Indiana.
An arctic blast of air dropped the temperature to -46°F (-43.3°C) at Babbit and International Falls, Minnesota on Jan. 21. For International Falls this was the coldest temperature on record aside from three dubious readings from January and February 1909 (the lowest of which was -55°F/-48.3°Con Jan. 6, 1909).
Babbit, Minnesota at sunrise on January 21 when the temperature stood at -46°F. Photo from NWS Minnesota Duluth web site.
Cold air filtered all the way south into northern Mexico on January 11-14 with Monterrey seeing is daily high of 82° on Jan. 9 fall to a high of just 41° on Jan. 12 (low was 35°), some 28° below normal. An ice storm damaged trees in nearby Chipinque Park above the 4000-foot level.
The most tragic weather story in the world for the month of January was undoubtedly the flash floods that struck Brazil following torrential rains Jan. 10-11. Up to 12” was estimated to have fallen in a 24-hour period in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, about what normally accumulates there for the entire month. As of this writing the death toll stands at 869 with many still missing, mostly in and around the resort towns of Novo Friburgo, Teresopolis, and Petropolis. The unusually heavy rains were at least in part due to abnormally warm ocean temperatures observed off the coast of Brazil. The crisis has focused attention, however, on the Brazilian weather service’s lack of adequate warnings and notification to authorities concerning extreme weather events.
Flash floods rampaged through several towns north of Rio de Janeiro in mid-January following a foot of rainfall. Photo from wiki site.
After a record cold and snowy December the weather returned to normal for most of Europe during January. There were no notable extreme weather events of note.
A heat wave in West Africa towards the end of the month sent temperatures soaring to 107.6°F (42.0°C) at Matam, Senegal on Jan. 30 and Kiffa, Mauritania on Jan. 31. These were the highest temperatures observed in the Northern Hemisphere for the month.
A flash flood struck Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Jan. 26 depositing 111 mm (4.37”) of rain in three hours (what normally falls in a year!) over a portion of the city. The resulting flood killed at least 10 and thousands needed rescuing by ground and helicopter crews.
Massive regional flooding affected eastern Sri Lanka in mid-January killing 43 and dislocating thousands. The floods were the result of up tot 18” of rainfall during the week of Jan. 3-9. As Jeff Masters reported in his blog on Jan. 19, 63” of rain was recorded at Batticaloa between Dec. 1 and Jan. 12, a sum almost equal to the city’s annual average.
Extreme cold gripped Manchuria, Korea, and Japan during January. Seoul, Korea averaged 4.5°F below average for the month with a low of 3° on Jan. 16. Only one day struggled above freezing (35° on Jan. 8). In Manchuria the Chinese city of Bayanbulak recorded its coldest temperature on record with a -57.3°F (-49.6°C) reading on Jan. 10 approaching China’s all-time record low of -62.1°F/-52.3°C at Mohe in February 1962). In Siberia the usual cold spot of Omyakon registered -78.2°F (--61.2°C) on Jan. 6 for the coldest temperature in the world for the month. Terrific snowfall was reported in Japan at the beginning of the month disrupting travel and closing roads. Snow was even reported from Amani-Oshima Island, a sub-tropical island in Kagoshima Prefecture. This was the first snow reported here since 1901. In the normally very snowy town of Kitahiroshima in Hiroshima Prefecture 192cm (75.6”) of snow was reported to have accumulated during a single storm ending on Jan. 2.
An unusual snowstorm also blanketed northern Burma in Kachin State near China. “I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said one resident of the area. “The snow came down like heavy rain, causing a number of buildings to collapse. No one was injured, but travel in and out of the area has been blocked for days.”
A customs building collapsed from heavy snow in the Burmese Panwe Valley near the border with China. Photo from The Irrawaddy web site.
The floods that began in December increased in scope and intensity during the first half of January in Queensland and, at one point, threatened the city of Brisbane with its worst flood in history. In the end, the floodwaters fell three feet short of their highest level measured in 1974. Between Jan. 10-12 684mm (26.93”) of rain fell at Mount Glorious. At least 25 deaths have been attributed to the flooding so far.
Record rainfalls were also reported in northern Tasmania. The town of Falmouth reported 282mm (11.10”) in 24 hours ending Jan. 15. This was the heaviest 24-hour total for January in the state’s history (the all-time record for Tasmania remains 352mm/13.86” at Cullenswood in March 1974).
The map above depicts flood peaks in Eastern Australia over the period of November 26, 2010 to January 20, 2011. Both maps courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
In spite of all the rains in eastern Australia some extreme heat was experienced as well being, after all, the peak of summertime down under. Olympic Dam registered the hottest temperature with a reading of 119.3°F (48.5°C) on January 25th. This was the highest temperature measured in the world for the month of January 2011.
The coldest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere was -45.2°F (-42.9°C) at Concordia station in Antarctica.
KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for temperature data and Paul Simons and Blair Trewin for Australian precipitation records.
Updated: 6:25 AM GMT on February 03, 2011