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, 1:46 AM GMT on June 25, 2011
Crazy Hot in Texas, Drought Worsens in Region-UPDATE June 28
While media attention has been drawn to Minot, North Dakota's flood the unfolding drought in Texas is a far more significant story. This month has been one of intense heat and drought across the state of Texas and, for this portion of the world, the worst on record. Although temperatures cooled off June 21-22 the heat ramped up again June 23-26. On June 26th Amarillo recorded its highest temperature on record (since 1892) with 111°. Dodge City, Kansas tied its all-time record with 110° (last seen on June 29, 1998). Dodge City has temperature records back to 1874. Yes, I said 1874 by the Signal Service. So this is one of the oldest records to be broken or tied in United States history. Some beneficial rain has fallen in the eastern part of Texas, but a drought of epic proportions continues in most other parts of Texas (and the east portion as well where precipitation remains around 25-30% of normal YTD) and adjoining regions of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona and Mexico.
The Texas Heat is On
The highest temperature reported from Texas so far this month has been 117° at Childress (in the panhandle region on June 26th). When the final COOP reports come in it is possible that a new state high was broken somewhere in this area, although these temperatures are still a long way from the state record of 120° set at Monahas on June 28, 1994 and at Seymore on August 12, 1936. In Kansas the temperature reached 114° at Ashland (a COOP site) on June 26th breaking their all-time record of 112°. The POR at Ashland goes back to 1900, but the hottest spot of all in Kansas was Hugoton with a 115° reading just one degree short of the all-time Kansas state record for June of 116° at Clay Center in 1911.
The surface conditions map for the afternoon of June 17th shows almost the entire state of Texas experiencing 100°+ temperatures.
Amarillo (as of June 28)
So far this season only Amarillo and Dodge City, Kansas (among first-order stations) have tied or broken their all-time record high temperature with Amarillo's 111° on June 26th (surpassing its old record of 109° set last Friday and the previous record of 108° which was set on four different occasions in the past: on June 24, 27, and 28, 1998 and June 24, 1953) and Dodge City's 110°. Borger, Texas also broke its all-time record on June 26th with a reading of 113° as did Dalhart with a 110° temperature. Virtually every site in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma as well as southwestern Kansas have broken their all-time record maximum temperatures. Childress tied its all-time record with a 117° reading. Dodge City, Kansas actually touched 111° for one minute but this was short of the 3 consecutive minutes to meet ASOS official temperature requirements.
In Amarillo, as of June 28th twelve days of the month have reached or exceeded 100° (and another three such days in May including an all-time May record of 104° on May 29th). Eight days have set or tied record daily highs. The average high temp so far this month has been 98.0° compared to a normal average high for the period of 86.5°.
Lubbock (as of June 28)
In Lubbock 16 days of the month have so far reached 100° or higher peaking on and June 26th with a daily record of 112° (the first time the city has recorded 110° or higher since its all-time record was set at 114° on June 27, 1994). The average high so far has been 100.0° versus a normal such of 89.5°. This is the warmest June on record so far.
Midland (as of June 28)
In Midland 20 days of the month have so far reached 100° or higher peaking at 111° on June 25th (all-time record is 116° on June 27, 1994). An amazing 10 days have either tied or broken their daily record—with six consecutive days of such from June 14-19!. In May the all-time monthly record high was tied on May 27th with a 107° reading. The city has had 13 days of 105°+ temperatures already this season, just 1 day short of the most such for any entire year (14) set in 1994. The average high so far this June has been 103.0° versus a normal such of 92.5°.
San Angelo (as of June 28)
In San Angelo 24 days have been 100° or more this month with a maximum of 108° on the 17th and 18th. In May an all-time monthly record of 110° was recorded on May 28th, only 1° short of the all-time record for any month of 111° set on July 29th, 1960. So far this month the high temperature has averaged 103.0° versus a normal such of 89.8°.
Abilene (as of June 28)
In Abilene 17 days have been 100° or more so far this month with a maximum of 107° on three-consecutive days (all daily records) June 17-19. In May Abilene had an all-time monthly record high of 109° on May 28th (just 2° short of the all-time record for any month of 111° set on August 3, 1945). The average high so far this month has been 101.0° versus an average of 90.3°.
Wichita Falls (as of June 28)
In Wichita Falls 26 days have been above 100° with a maximum of 111° on June 17th and June 18th. Six daily record highs so far this month. Average high so far 101.0° versus normal of 91.0°.
Laredo (as of June 28)
Data for Laredo taken from its airport location is suspect. Local meteorologist and weather broadcaster Richard Berler has proven that the thermometer here runs 2-4°F above reality. See
In this article as reported in the local Laredo press.
in any case, just for the sake of my list here, this is what they have reported this month so far:
*Maximum so far has been 113° on June 17th
*May maximum of 112° on May 28th tied all-time monthly record. The all-time record for Laredo (for any month) is 115° on June 11, 1942
*Average high 106.0° versus normal of 100.0°
*Daily records set on 8 days so far this June
Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport (as of June 28)
The heat has been bad but not exceptional in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area so far this month. There have been 7 days of 100° or more with a maximum of 104° on June 18th. The average high has been 97.0° versus a normal of 90.2°.
San Antonio (as of June 28)
So far 7 days of 100° or more with a maximum of 104° on June 17th and June 18th. Four daily records so far. The average high has been 98.0° versus normal of 91.0°.
Even more remarkable than the heat has been the drought that has increased in intensity across the western half of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, the panhandle of Oklahoma and the portions of the Deep South.
The drought in Texas is now the worst on record in portions of the western part of the state. As blogger Sonja Harris recently wrote, “The oak trees are shedding their leaves for protection and the cedar trees are turning brown. There has been no display of wildflowers other than a sprinkle of yellow cactus blooms. We all miss the beauty of the wildflowers along the Texas highways which have been mostly absent this year. Even the cacti are dying. Huge trees are literally just falling over to their death. Ranchers are selling their livestock for lack of green pastures for the cattle to graze on.”
The Texas state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, issued this report on June 3rd and since then the situation has drastically worsened. It is probable that, at this point (June 24th), Texas is now enduring the worst drought in the state’s history, or at least for the western half of the state.
The latest drought monitor map shows the region of ‘exceptional drought’ has expanded in Oklahoma, Texas, and the Deep South especially into Florida’s panhandle, Georgia, and southern Alabama.
The map below is a close-up of current drought conditions in Texas:
The fires last April and May have subsided for the time being. Most of the fuel of long grass and shrub pines has burned off already. This was how the situation looked last April 27:
Map of the wild fires burning in Texas during the worst of the burning in late April. Graphic from wunderground.com
The dryness of the air during some recent days has been simply amazing. Note this hourly temperature roundup from the Midland NWS office showing a dew point of -1°F at Snyder while the air temp stood at 107°!
Lubbock, Texas has measured only 1.10” of precipitation since January 1st ,the driest reading ever measured at this time of the year (previous driest such period was 2.10” in 1945. Normal rainfall to date for the year should be 7.10”. El Paso has measured only .16” since January 1st (normal would be 2.42”) and no significant rain has fallen there since September 23, 2010 (when 1.09” fell). In the nine months since September 23 a total of only .51” has been measured in El Paso. The city experienced its longest dry spell on record of 119 consecutive days without measurable precipitation between Feb. 3-June 1. On June 2nd it rained .05" and there has been no additional rainfall since.
Other Texas locations have recorded the following total precipitation this year to date (versus normal through June 30-little rain is forecast until the end of the month for any of the locations I list below but, of course, that could change, in fact Amarillo picked up .49" during a thunderstorm just after midnight on June 28th effectively almost doubling their precipitation YTD):
Amarillo 1.17” (normal 9.42”)
Midland .16” (normal 5.60”)
Abilene 6.48” (normal 11.07”)
San Angelo 2.94” (normal 10.20”)
Odessa .10” (normal 5.62”)
Pecos .00” (normal 4.22”)
The last measurable precipitation at Pecos was on September 23, 2010. This is one of the longest rain-free periods in U.S. history for any first-order or COOP site outside of the desert regions of California and Arizona.
So far, this year has been the driest on record for New Mexico. Here are the year-to-date precipitation totals as of June 24th:
Albuquerque .19” (normal 3.06”)
Clayton 2.30” (normal 6.83”)
Silver City .11” (normal 4.79”)
Alamogordo .09” (normal 3.29”)
Roswell .10” (normal 4.57”)
Truth or Consequences .06” (normal 2.49”)
Deming .03” (normal 2.31”)
Ruidoso .11” (normal 7.05”)
Las Cruces .00” (normal 2.18”)
(Last measureable precipitation in Las Cruces was .05” on September 22, 2010, but data for October is mostly missing.)
Needless to say, Arizona has born the brunt of the worst this drought has so far provided with the largest wild fires in its history scorching some 700,000 acres so far this May and June. Below are the year-to-date precipitation totals as of June 23 versus what normal should be:
Phoenix 1.04” (normal 2.94”)
Tucson .83” (normal 3.22”)
Yuma .65” (normal 1.18”)
Safford .15” (normal 2.60”)
Douglas .06” (normal 2.73”)
Nogales .25” (normal 3.93”)
Tucson has now gone 78 days with no measurable precipitation, the 7th longest such period on record. No rain is forecast for at least the next week.
Table from the Tucson NWS site.
The summer monsoon season should begin this month and what happens over the next two weeks will be critical so far as how the drought progresses.
A report from The Latin American Herald Tribune states that 40% of the nation is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years. There are portions of the state of Coahulia where no rain has fallen since last September (just like Pecos in Texas). Wild fires have so far burned 500,000 acres in northern regions near the U.S. border.
Updated: 5:12 AM GMT on June 29, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 5:15 AM GMT on June 17, 2011
The Worst Wild Fires in World History
The Wallow Fire in Arizona and New Mexico has now become the largest in history for the southwestern United States with over 788 square miles (504,409 acres) charred so far, far surpassing the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002. It is now probably in the top ten largest single wild fires in U.S history (as of June 18th). I thought this an opportune time to look back and compare the magnitude of the fire with those in the past in both the United States and around the world.
Worst Wild Fires in U.S. History
The single worst wild fire in U.S. history, in both size and fatalities, is known as the Great Peshtigo Fire which burned 3.8 million acres (5,938 square miles) and killed at least 1,500 in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the week of October 8-14, 1871. Many sources put the size of the fire at 1.2-1.5 million acres but that included only the area that was completely burned and not the additional 2.3 million acres in surrounding counties that also suffered burn damage (see maps below). Unattended fires at logging camps in the area most likely caused the fire. After a long hot and very dry summer strong warm autumn winds from the southwest fanned the fires out of control. Fire tornadoes were reported at several locations and the fire became so hot that people taking refuge in rivers were boiled to death.
These maps illustrates the extent of the Peshtigo fire of 1871 in Wisconsin and a portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Maps from the ‘Atlas of Wisconsin’.
Numerous other fires also broke out in Michigan at the same time, the worst of which burned an additional 1 million acres (1,562 square miles) in Michigan’s thumb region and in the southwestern portion of the state and killed 200 people mostly in and around Port Huron.
This map shows the locations of all the major fires that broke out in the Upper Midwest during the period of October 8-21, 1871.
Amazingly, the Great Chicago Fire of even greater fame also happened this same week (October 8-10) and remains the worst urban fire in U.S. history with over 300 killed (assuming we treat the deaths in San Francisco in 1906 as earthquake-related). In fact, there is a connection between the wild fires in Wisconsin and Michigan and that in Chicago. An apocryphal story (made up by a newspaper man) blamed the cause of the Chicago fire on a cow knocking a lantern over in a barn. In fact, it is likely the fire was caused by embers from fires burning in the woods west of town being blown by the same strong southwesterly winds (that fanned the flames in Wisconsin) into the city and ignited some of the wooden buildings which were predominate in the city at that time.
An old map of Chicago illustrating the burn area during the fire of October 8-10, 1871. Note how the fire began in the southwestern part of the city and how strong southwesterly winds spread the flames to the northeast and into the heart of the city.
All in all, well over 2,000 people died and close to 5 million acres (7,800 square miles) burned during the weeks of October 8-21, 1871 in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. An intriguing, but most likely apocryphal, theory is that the fires were actually caused by the impact of fragments from Comet Biela that was observed at this time.
It should be noted that all of the deadliest wild fires in American history have occurred in the Upper Midwest. Other notable fires were the Cloquet, Minnesota fire of October 13-15, 1918 that killed as many as 1,000, and the Hinkley, Minnesota fire of September 1, 1894 that killed 400-800.
The worst wild fire in western history and the 2nd largest overall in the United States was the Great Fire of 1910. This massive forest fire burned some 3 million acres (4,700 square miles) in Idaho and Montana beginning on August 20-21, 1910. It killed at least 87 people, mostly ill-equipped firefighters, including a single crew of 28 who were overcome by the flames near Setzer Creek outside Avery, Idaho. The worst hit town was Wallace, Idaho, of which one-third was razed.
Wallace, Idaho lies in ruins following the Great Fire of 1910. One-third of the town burned to the ground. Photo source unknown.
The fire was the culmination (as always) of a long dry summer that spawned a number of small fires that were whipped into a single huge conflagration by near hurricane-force winds on August 20th during the passage of a strong cold front. Smoke from the fire was observed as far east as upstate New York.
The 1910 fire was the seminal event that led to a policy of the U.S. Forest Service to prevent and battle all wild fires. This policy remains in force today but is of considerable controversy. The debate reached a head during the summer of 1988 when 800,000 acres (1,250 square miles) of Yellowstone National Park were burned.
California experiences large and destructive wild fires virtually every year, usually in October when the long dry season is coming to an end (normally there is no rainfall in California between May 15-October 15). The worst fires usually occur in the densely populated coastal regions between San Diego and San Francisco which are subject to powerful easterly winds, variously known as Santa Ana (in southern California) and Diablo (in central California). This wind phenomenon is most common during the months of September and October.
The largest single fire in modern California history was the so-called Cedar Fire in San Diego County during October 2003. It burned 280,278 acres (438 square miles), destroyed 2,820 buildings, and killed 15 people.
A satellite image depicts the massive smoke plumes from the Cedar Fire blowing offshore from San Diego County on October 25, 2003.
The deadliest urban wild fire, however, was that which burned into the cities of Oakland and Berkeley on October 20, 1991. Although only about 1,500 acres burned, the fire consumed 3,500 homes and apartment buildings and killed 25. This fire was caused by a Diablo wind event and remains the deadliest and costliest urban wild fire in U.S. history.
A resident of Oakland’s Rockridge District watches in disbelief as his neighbor’s homes burn during the great wild fire of October 20, 1991. Unlike the wild fires in southern California, this fire burned into the heart of an urban area. This was the deadliest and costliest urban wild fire in U.S. history. Photo by Jim Pire.
The largest fire on record in the Pacific Northwest was the Syskiyou National Forest Fire of July 12-15, 2002 in Southern Oregon. Some 500,000 acres (781 square miles) burned. Fortunately, there were no casualties or major structural losses since the fire was contained largely to a wilderness area.
NORTHEAST AND CANADA
The largest (and deadliest) wild fire in Canadian history as well as in the northeast of the U.S. was the Miramichi Fire of October 7, 1825. An estimated 3 million acres (4,685 square miles) of forest burned in the Canadian province of New Brunswick and in the U.S. state of Maine. At least 160 people died but the toll may have been much higher since an unknown number of loggers in the area may have perished.
A wild fire in Acadia National Park, Maine during October 25-27, 1947 destroyed much of Bar Harbor, burned 205,678 acres (321 square miles), and killed 16.
Canada’s largest fire in modern history was the Chapleau-Mississagi fire of May and June, 1948 in northeastern Ontario. It burned 691,880 acres (1,081 square miles) and smoke from the fire was dense enough in Texas to cause streetlights to turn on during the daytime in some cities. A smaller but deadlier wild fire, the so-called Porcupine Fire, burned 494,000 acres (772 square miles) in northern Ontario in July 1911. At least 70 people died in several mining camps and communities in the area.
An intense crown fire rages near Chisholm, Alberta in Canada on May 23, 2001. The fire ultimately consumed 286,636 acres and was the largest wild fire in Alberta’s history. Photo from ‘The Atlas of Canada’ courtesy of Government of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
A series of large fires in Alaska during the summer of 2004 burned a combined 5 million acres (7,800 square miles), the most on record for the state although there is plenty of evidence that enormous fires have frequently raged over thousands of square miles in events prior to the modern settlement of the state.
Wild Fires Around the World
Perhaps the largest wild fire in modern world history was that known as The Black Friday Bushfire in Australia’s Victoria State on January 13, 1939. Some 5 million acres burned (7,800 square miles) and 71 died. About 75% of the entire state was affected and 1,100 homes and log mills were destroyed. Ash from the fires fell in New Zealand some 2000 miles to the east.
Australia’s deadliest wild fire, and the nation’s worst natural disaster, was the Black Saturday Fire of February 7-March 14, 2009. A swarm of fires burned 1.1 million acres (1720 square miles) and killed 173, many victims died in their automobiles trying to outrun the flames. 3,500 structures burned across the state of Victoria. The exact cause of the fires (aside from drought, heat, and wind) has never been determined although arson is suspected in several cases.
An emergency vehicle races away from a blaze in the Gippsland region of Victoria State, Australia during the deadly Black Saturday wild fire of February 2009 that claimed some 173 lives. Photo from AP.
Large fires in Siberia’s taiga forests are fairly common and seem to be on the increase. The worst summer was that of 2003 when on one day in June satellites recorded 157 fires burning 27,181,000 acres (42,470 square miles) simultaneously. The smoke plume from the fires darkened the skies over Osaka, Japan some 3,000 miles away and soot from the fires was recorded in Seattle, Washington. The fires were mostly set (accidently or intentionally) by illegal timber firms who sell cheap lumber to China.
More recently, the wild fires caused by the remarkable heat wave of July and August, 2010 in western Russia engulfed 280,000 acres (437 square miles) around Moscow and killed at least 60 people.
As of this writing wild fires in Siberia are currently burning at least 520,000 acres (812 square miles) in Siberia. The Siberian Governor, Dmitry Mezentsev, has declared a state of emergency as “the situation appears to be increasingly deteriorating.”
The fires in western Russia during the summer of 2010 blanketed Moscow in a thick blanket of smoke. Here is a scene in Red Square on August 6th when the Kremlin (right) and St. Basil’s Cathedral (left) became barely visible. Photo by Mikhail Metzal.
The near record dry and warm spring this year has already led to a number of large wild fires in Switzerland and Italy. It is feared that this summer could produce a repeat of the disastrous wild fires of the summer of 2007 when 3,000 fires burned 670,000 acres (1,046 square miles) in Greece, burning down 2,100 structures and killing 84 people. The flames came dangerously close to iconic and historic sites in Athens, and Olympia.
INTENTIONLLY set fires in the AMAZON BASIN and INDONESIA
Enormous swaths of forest have been intentionally set ablaze over the past 30 years in the Amazon Basin and on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (the Indonesian sector of Borneo). Many millions of acres have been burned to clear land for agriculture and settlement in these regions and dwarf the wild fires I list above that have historically occurred in other places around the world. It is, therefore, hard to call these ‘wild’ fires.
Updated: 5:10 AM GMT on June 19, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 4:01 AM GMT on June 09, 2011
May 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary
Extreme weather highlights for this past May include the continuation of the unbelievable deadly and destructive tornado season in the U.S., record flooding along the lower Mississippi River, and flooding in other areas of the U.S. and Canada including Lake Champlain in the Northeast. Super Typhoon Songda made glancing blows in the Philippines and Japan. A rare powerful tornado killed two in Auckland, New Zealand.
Below are some of the month’s highlights.
The outstanding single extreme weather event of the month was the EF-5 tornado (one of five so far this year) that destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri killing 138 on May 22nd. This was the 8th deadliest single tornado in U.S. history. Here is the list prior to the Joplin event UPDATE NOTE at 11pm PST June 10: CNN reports the death toll from the Joplin tornado is now at 151 following a deadly fungus infection that has killed some survivors of the initial outbreak. If confirmed this would now make the Joplin tornado the 7th deadliest tornado in U.S. history):
Table from 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book' Christopher C. Burt, W. W Norton 2nd edition, 2007.
Stunned survivors walk the streets of a hard-hit Joplin neighborhood in the aftermath of the EF-5 twister. Photo from AP.
Another deadly tornado outbreak swept across portions of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas killing 16 on May 24th. A straight-line wind gust of 151mph was recorded during one of the storms at a site in El Reno thirty miles west of Oklahoma.
The Mississippi River crested at all-time record heights in late May in Natchez, Mississippi: 61.91’ and Vicksburg, Mississippi at 57.06’. Fortunately, the careful management of levee overflows (and the planned demolition of some) by the Army Corps of Engineers prevented any truly catastrophic flooding from occuring (there was just one reported death attributed to the floods) and damage was limited to ‘just’ $9 billion mostly in agricultural losses. It could have been much worse.
Record flooding also occurred along the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont, New York, and Quebec where 3000 homes were flooded in the Richelieu Valley south of Montreal by May 5th. The Lake reached its greatest flood stage on record at 103.1’ on that date (flood stage is 100.0’) at the Burlington, Vermont lake level gauge.
Lake Champlain flooded some Vermont homes along its shores when it rose 3 feet above flood stage in early May. Photo from Vermont Governors Office.
Elsewhere in Canada the Assiniboine River in Manitoba reached its record flood stage on May 24th resulting in the intentional breeching of a levee to save Winnipeg from a potentially catastrophic flood. Damage to agriculture and lost structures were estimated at $1 billion, one of Canada’s costliest natural disasters. May was the wettest such month on record for most of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as well as western South Dakota, eastern Wyoming, western North Dakota, and eastern Montana where, for Billings, it was the wettest single month ever recorded (9.54”—see below-this is the single most significant precipitation record broken during May).
Ironically, in Alberta, Canada a severe drought culminated in a wild fire that burned much of the town of Slave Lake to the ground. Wild fires also continued to plague Texas and new ones broke out in eastern Arizona (see Jeff Masters recent posts on this). It has been incredibly dry in the desert Southwest and Texas for the past 9 months. As of June 1st El Paso had recorded only .15” of precipitation (all snow!) since January 1st. The last significant rainfall in El Paso was on September 23, 2010.
Some U.S.A. All-time Weather Record Notes
Record spring rainfall was recorded in the following regions:
Chart from NCDC
Billings, Montana recorded its greatest single-month precipitation record with 9.54” in May (previous record of 7.71” in May 1981 smashed). It also recorded its greatest 24-hour precipitation on record with 3.35” on May 24-25 (old record 3.19” on April 27-28, 1978). Precipitation records at Billings go back to 1894.
Ely, Nevada received its greatest late season 24-hour snowfall on record with 9.0” on May 28-29 contributing to its greatest seasonal snowfall on record (see June summary for final total). Snowfall records at Ely go back to 1890.
Waycross, Georgia recorded 104° on May 23rd. The hottest ever recorded there during the month of May (records go back to 1902 at this site).
Amarillo, Texas also recorded 104° on May 29th. This was the hottest ever recorded there during the month of May (records go back to 1892 at this site).
Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere for May, 2011
The coldest temperature measured in the Northern Hemisphere for the month of May was a reading of -42.7°F (-41.5°C) at Summit Station, Greenland on May 2nd.
Devastating flooding continued in Colombia. Jeff Masters reported on this in his blog on May 16th: “Exceptionally heavy spring rains have killed at least 425 people so far this year, with 482 others missing. Damages are in the billions, and there are 3 million disaster victims. "Some parts of the country have been set back 15 to 20 years", said Plan’s Country Director in Colombia, Gabriela Bucher. "Over the past 10 months we have registered five or six times more rainfall than usual," said the director of Colombia's weather service, Ricardo Lozano. Up to 800 mm (about 32 inches) of rain has fallen along the Pacific coast of Colombia over the past two weeks. The severe spring flooding follows on the heels of the heaviest fall rains in Colombia's History. Weather records go back 42 year in Colombia. Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos said, "The tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history."
Severe drought conditions continued to worsen during May for portions of Northern and Western Europe. Only 60% of normal precipitation has fallen during the February-April time frame and the drought is threatening to become the worst since 1976, when a drought that affected France, Germany, and the United Kingdom was considered the most devastating in modern history.
A severe extra-tropical storm slammed into Ireland and Scotland on May 22-24 almost scuttling President Obama’s visit to Ireland at that time. A wind gust of 100mph was recorded at Glen Ogle in Sterlingshire, Scotland at the height of the storm and several fatalities occurred as the result of falling trees.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland reported its first May snowstorm in 16 years. Six inches accumulated on May 1st.
I have no information concerning any extreme weather events in Africa during the month of May. The warmest temperature measured in the Southern Hemisphere occurred at Garissa, Kenya on May 6th with a 98.6°F (37.0°C) reading.
The first major tropical storm of the year formed in the Western Pacific near the Philippines on May 19th. Super Typhoon Songda reached its peak strength on May 27th with 150mph-sustained winds and a central air pressure value of 920mb. The storm grazed Luzon Island and battered Okinawa and Miyagi, Japan with 120mph winds. Thirteen deaths were attributed to the typhoon.
Super Typhoon Songda near its peak strength on May 27th with 145mph sustained winds. Image courtesy of NOAA.
Heavy rains in Malaysia resulted in a tragic mudslide on May 21st that buried an orphanage near Hulu Langat, southeast of Kuala Lumpur. At least 16 children died in the tragedy.
The hottest temperature in the northern Hemisphere and the world during the month was reported from Turbat, Pakistan on May 20th with a reading of 122.9°F (50.5°C).
AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND
May was the coldest such in Australia since 1976 with an overall departure from normal anomaly of -1.75°C (-3.15°F). In fact, the autumn of 2011 (March-May) was the coolest since at least 1950 and possibly since 1917 (according to recently digitized data). It was also the 4th wettest autumn on record (following the wettest summer on record of Dec. 2010-Feb. 2011). Last year was the 2nd wettest calendar year on record for the continent.
These maps show the departure from average for both precipitation (top) and temperature (bottom) for Australia during the course of its fall season of March-May. Courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The temperature extremes for Australia during May ranged from 15.8°F (-9°C) at Woolbrook, New South Wales on May 11th to 95.2°F (35.1°C) at Wyndham on May 3rd. The wettest day resulted in 4.80” (122mm) at Katoomba, New South Wales on May 31st.
A violent EF-1 or 2 rated tornado swept across a portion of Auckland, New Zealand on May 3rd killing two and causing significant damage to homes and stores. It was the first fatal tornado to strike New Zealand since 1991 and the deadliest such event since a twister in 1948 killed three.
The coldest temperature in the southern Hemisphere and the world during the month was -109.7°F (-78.7°C) at Vostok Station on May 19th.
KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data.
Updated: 6:05 AM GMT on June 14, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 9:16 PM GMT on June 02, 2011
Record Spring Rain and Snow Pose Major Flood Risks in the West and along the Missouri River
With the Mississippi River now slowly receding from its record crest at the end of May a new major flood risk is developing along the Missouri River from Montana to Nebraska and snowmelt is likely to create significant flooding in many river valleys and lakes throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
Missouri River Flooding
National Weather Service Hydrologist Mark Fuchs warned on Thursday (June 2nd) that “nearly every reservoir in the Missouri River Basin has been completely used up, with releases from five to six dams on the upper Missouri exceeding 100,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), higher than any of them have ever experienced.” Historic flooding along the length of the river from Montana to Nebraska is likely to rival the record crests observed during the great flood of 1993.
The heaviest observed monthly rainfall on record during May in portions of Montana, combined with the melting of near-record snow packs, is the culprit leading to this situation. Billings, Montana recorded 9.54” in May, obliterating its former single-wettest month on record of 7.71” set in May of 1981 (the average annual precipitation for Billings is just 14.5”!). An all-time 24-hour rainfall of 3.35” was observed on May 24-25 in the city (old record was 3.19” on April 27-28, 1978). Almost every site in eastern Montana, eastern Wyoming, and western South Dakota recorded their wettest May on record. Portions of western North Dakota and eastern Montana have also endured their snowiest winter season on record (including Williston, North Dakota with 107.2” and Glasgow, Montana with 108.6”) and the melting of this has filled local reservoirs to the brim.
Tributaries to the Missouri, such as the Souris River in North Dakota and the North Platte River in Nebraska, are already flooding at all-time record heights.
Any additional rainfall across the region and snow melt from the Montana Rockies will likely cause a record crest to develop on the upper Missouri River that will work its way downstream to the Mississippi at St. Louis sometime later this month. Cities that are likely to be affected by flooding of record proportions include Williston and Bismarck, North Dakota; Pierre, the state capital of South Dakota, Sioux City, Iowa, and even perhaps Kansas City, Missouri.
The Missouri River has already begun to overflow its banks at Sioux City, Iowa as the photo taken on May 31st indicates. Photo from Associated Press.
Below are the flood stage predictions for the Missouri River from Sioux City to St. Charles (where the Missouri River reaches the Mississippi):
The worst flood in modern history of the Missouri River was that of 1993, ironically the same as the last time (previous to this year) that the Mississippi recorded its greatest flood on record. I say ironically because in 1993 the two rivers flooded for the same reason (heavy spring rains) and at the same time, yet this year the two rivers are flooding at different times for slightly different reasons; still because of record spring rains but this time with upstream snow melt more in the equation.
Rocky Mountain Region Flooding Potential
The extraordinary snowfall season of 2010-2011 continues into June for the Central and Northern Rocky Mountain and Intermountain Regions. Ely, Nevada just received an additional 9.0” of snow on May 28-29 breaking the town’s all-time snowiest season on record with a total of 110.4” (amazingly the previous record was just last season with 107.0”—-records go back to 1890). In Colorado the snow depths at the 10,000' snotel locations are still running as high as 169” (14 feet deep!) at Tower site. Even at the relatively low site of Dry Lake at 8,400” the snow is still an impressive 41” deep as of June 2. In Wyoming snow depths are still over 120” (10 feet)at most 10,000-foot snotel sites, and in Utah Snowbird still has 135” on the ground at the 9,640-foot level. The deepest snow in the nation, however, is in California’s Sierra where 181” (15 feet) remains on the ground at Leavitt Lake, 9,400’. Donner Summit has so far recorded over 800” of snow this season with more expected this weekend. Its all-time seasonal snowfall record of 819” (set in 1937-1938) is in jeopardy.
All of this is probably going to melt very quickly this month and send torrents water into the valley streams, rivers, and lakes. Furthermore, low elevation sites such as Salt Lake City have experienced their wettest spring on record: Salt Lake City has just completed its wettest three month (March-May) period on record with 11.73” of precipitation (previous record was 10.39” during March-May 1876). It is very likely that Salt Lake City will see some serious urban flooding later this month. The last big snowmelt flood in the city occurred in May 1983.
Downtown Salt Lake City’s streets turned into rivers in late May and early June 1983 following a rapid warm up that melted deep snow in the Wasatch Mountains. Here pedestrians cross a makeshift bridge at the intersection of State Street and 100 South Street. The Federal Building is in the background. Photo from National Weather Service archives.
The Great Salt Lake is no longer in danger of flooding since pumps were installed on the west side of the lake in 1987 to pump water into the desert.
To keep track of the coming floods in the West and along the Missouri River follow wunderground.com's severe weather alerts page for the latest information.
Updated: 2:59 AM GMT on June 03, 2011