Weather Extremes

The Great Okefenokee Swamp Fire of 2011

By: weatherhistorian, 6:28 PM GMT on July 28, 2011

The Great Okefenokee Swamp Fire of 2011

Although much media attention (and rightfully so) has been given to the enormous and devastating wild fires in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas this spring and summer little has been reported about one of the largest wild fires in the history of the Southeast; the great Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge fire that started back on April 28th and has now consumed about 75% of the 400,000 acre refuge.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is one of America’s greatest wetlands and is located in southeastern Georgia. This is the largest freshwater swamp in North America covering approximately 700 square miles in both Georgia and Florida.



A regional map identifies the location of the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge along the border of Georgia and Florida.



The beautiful cypress-swamp landscape of the Okefenokee refuge. During times of drought, such as currently, the water level will fall below the peat surface and make the swamp vulnerable to wild fire. Photo by Robb Helfrick.

Technically, the Okefenokee is not a swamp but rather a peat bog. And, as many of you probably know, peat bog fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish since they can smolder below the swamp surface unseen for days before erupting above ground in fire.

On April 28th lightning started a fire in the southwestern section of the swamp at a location known as Honey Prairie.



An aerial photograph of the initial blaze at Honey Prairie on April 28th. Photo from web page of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The initial blaze burned about 1,000 acres and then gradually spread over the entire wildlife refuge area until, by July 18th, it had consumed 318,000 acres, almost 75% of the entire 402,000-acre refuge area. It may seem strange that a swamp can burn so out of control for so long but when the water level falls below the level of the peat surface the oily saw palmetto plants that carpet the peat, become a ready fuel source for fires that may have started in the cypress or pine trees as a result of lightning strikes. Even if it rains this just dampens the surface of the peat and the fire can remain smoldering below the surface until eventually the water table rises to extinguish the embers.



Range of the fire as of July 14th. More than 300,000 acres have burned affecting most of the refuge.

An extreme drought has plagued much of southern Georgia since this winter with precipitation at Waycross, Georgia (the nearest weather station to the swamp for which I can find data) averaging only 25% of normal for both the winter (December-February) and spring (March-May) periods this year. Beneficial rains finally began to fall in mid-June and so far this July helping to bring the fire 70% under control at this time although the area is still under an extreme drought situation



The latest drought monitor map from NOAA shows that southern Georgia is still experiencing an extreme drought in spite of recent rains.

Georgia has a large timber industry centered west of the refuge area in Clinch County and this has already suffered losses of around $26.5 million as a result of wild fires so far this year. The worst wild fires in Georgia or Florida history were those that occurred in May 2007 after a truck accident and lightning ignited fires in the Waycross area of Georgia and also in north central Florida. All told 564,450 acres burned before Tropical Storm Barry extinguished the flames the following month.

Fire

Permalink

The Great Heat Wave of 1936; Hottest Summer in U.S. on Record

By: weatherhistorian, 10:10 PM GMT on July 21, 2011

The Great Heat Wave of 1936; Hottest Summer in U.S. on Record

As the eastern two-thirds of the United States continues to swelter under some of the hottest temperatures seen in recent years I thought it opportune to look back at the nation’s worst heat wave and hottest summer in history, that of 1936.

1936; A Year of Extremes

The climatological summer (June-August) of 1936 was the warmest nationwide on record (since 1895) with an average temperature of 74.6° (2nd warmest summer was that of 2006 with an average of 74.4°) and July of 1936 was the single warmest month ever measured with an average of 77.4° (beating out July 2006 by .1°). Ironically, February of 1936 was the coldest such on record with an average nationwide temperature of 26.0° (single coldest month on record was January 1977 with a 23.6° average). In February of 1936 temperatures fell as low as -60° in North Dakota, an all-time state record and Turtle Lake, North Dakota averaged -19.4° for the entire month, the coldest average monthly temperature ever recorded in the United States outside of Alaska. One town in North Dakota, Langdon, went for 41 consecutive days below zero (from January 11 to February 20), the longest stretch of below zero (including maximum temperatures) ever endured at any site in the lower 48.

With this in mind, it is truly astonishing what occurred the following summer. The temperature in North Dakota that had reached -60° on February 15 at Parshall rose to 121° at Steele by July 6, 1936. The two towns are just 110 miles from one another!

The Great Heat Wave

JUNE 1936

June of 1936 saw unusual heat build initially in two nodes, one centered over the Southeast and another over the Rocky Mountains and western Plains. This differs from the current heat wave that began mostly over Texas and the Deep South.



By the end of June 1936 all-time state monthly records for heat had been established in Arkansas (113° at Corning on June 20th), Indiana (111° at Seymore on June 29th), Kentucky (110° at St. John on June 29th), Louisiana (110° at Dodson on June 20th), Mississippi (111° at Greenwood on June 20th), Missouri (112° at Doniphan on June 20th), Nebraska (114° at Franklin on June 26th), and Tennessee (110° at Etowah on June 29th). A total of 8 states and all these monthly records are still standing.

JULY 1936

By July the dome of heat locked in place over the central and northern Great Plains and remained there for the entire month.



Around July 8-10 the ridge briefly extended all the way to the East Coast when virtually every absolute maximum temperature record was broken from Virginia to New York. This held true for most sites in the Ohio Valley, Upper Midwest, and Great Plains as well. There are so many superlatives that it is impossible to list them all. In short the following states broke or tied their all-time maximum temperatures that July:



Add to the above list a 120° reading at Gann Valley, South Dakota on July 5th. Unfortunately I am unable to update the table with this record since it would involve rewriting and posting the table (not an easy task!). Sorry for the omission!

Some of the many major cities to record their all-time maximum temperatures during July 1936 included:



On July 15th the average high temperature for all 113 weather stations in Iowa measured 108.7°. Similar to the current heat wave the nighttime low temperatures were also remarkably warm. Bismarck recorded a low of just 83° on July 11th. Milwaukee, Wisconsin endured five consecutive nights above 80° from July 8-13. Even near the normally cool shores of Lake Erie amazing temperatures were recorded such as the low of 85° and high of 110° at Corry, Pennsylvania on July 14th. And most amazing of all was the low of 91° at Lincoln, Nebraska on the night of July 24-25th warming to an all-time record of 115° on the 25th.



Residents of Lincoln, Nebraska spend the night on the lawn of the state capital on July 25, 1936. The temperature that night never fell below 91°, perhaps the warmest night ever recorded anywhere in the United States outside of the desert Southwest. Photo from the Nebraska State Historical Society.

AUGUST 1936

By August the heat dome shifted a bit further south from its position over the northern Plains and became anchored over the southern Plains.



More all-time state records were broken or tied:



Oklahoma City also broke its all-time heat record with a high of 113° on August 11th as did Kansas City also with 113° on August 14th and Wichita with 114° on the 12th. The list just goes on and on.

All in all, nothing like this heat wave has before or since occurred. It is hard to believe how people fared without air-conditioning, although there were some rudimentary forms of such:



When the temperature peaked at an all-time high of 108° in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the want-ad staff at the 'St. Paul Daily News' was provided with 400 pounds of ice and two electric fans to cool the air in the press room. Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society.

The only saving grace was that, unlike the current heat wave, humidities were low as a result of the ongoing and prolonged drought which had been affecting almost all of the central part of the country for several years come the summer of 1936. This is also probably one of the reasons that such anomalous extreme high temperatures were recorded.

Seventeen states broke or equaled their all-time record absolute maximum temperatures during the summer of 1936 (still standing records).

Below is a map reproduced from my book Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book that summarizes some of the records broken during the summer of 1936:



Heat

Updated: 1:51 AM GMT on July 22, 2011

Permalink

June 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By: weatherhistorian, 10:06 PM GMT on July 16, 2011

June 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary

I’ve been on holiday the first two weeks of this month so sorry for this tardy global weather extremes blog for this past June. Significant events include the intensifying drought in the south central and southeast of the U.S.A. with some all-time record heat, flooding in the upper Plains, and a freak tornado hits Springfield, Massachusetts. A world calendar day maximum minimum temperature record was set at Khassab, Oman on June 27th with a low of 107.1°F. A new record low temperature for all of Oceania has been uncovered in New Zealand (-14.1°F back in 1903). The humidity fell to 0.6% in Las Vegas on June 28th, perhaps he lowest such ever measured in the United States.

Below are some of the month’s highlights.

NORTH AMERICA

June was the hottest month on record (any month) for several major cities in Texas including Midland (avg. was 88.0°, old record 87.2° in August 1964), Lubbock (avg. was 85.9°, old record 85.4° in July 1966), and San Angelo (avg. 88.6°, old record 88.2° in August 1952). Some all-time absolute maximum temperatures were also broken or tied including an amazing 111° in Amarillo on June 26th which broke its previous record of 109° set just three days earlier (previous record was 108° on June 28, 1998. All-time maximum temperatures were also broken at Tallahassee, Florida with 105° on June 15th (old record 104° on several previous occasions), and at Dodge City, Kansas where a 110° reading on June 26th tied their previous record set on June 29, 1998. Several towns in Texas reached 117° on June 26th and a reading of 115° at Hugoton, Kansas that day came within 1° of tying the Kansas state hottest June temperature ever measured (116° at Clay Center in 1911).

The drought in the south central and southeast of the United States reached epic proportions. Carlsbad, New Mexico went 233 days with no measurable precipitation until a meager .01” fell on June 2nd and it has not rained again since (as of July 15th). Pecos, Texas just received .02” of precipitation on July 14th, its first measurable amount since September 23, 2010 (293 consecutive dry days). Albuquerque, New Mexico has only had .19” of precipitation since January 1st (as of July 15th).For the period of January through June this year has so far been the driest on record (117 years) for the states of New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. Arizona and New Mexico both experienced their largest wild fires in history during June and July.

Meanwhile the wettest spring on record continued into June for portions of the West and Upper Plains. Pierre, South Dakota recorded its wettest single month on record with an 8.31” accumulation (old record 7.66” in June 2008). The Missouri River reached near record crests from North Dakota to Missouri and the Souris River in North Dakota flooded Minot when it broke its record flood stage. California had its wettest June in at least 117 years when two remarkable late season rainstorms struck the state on June 4th and on June 28th, the latter being the wettest summer storm ever recorded. During the June 4th event Mining Ridge (in the mountains just south of Big Sur in Central California) recorded 8.31” in 24 hours, the heaviest such rainfall in June in California history.



A winter-like storm approaches the California coast on June 4th. This was one of the most powerful late-season storms ever to strike the state. Water vapor image from NOAA.

Snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, Wasatch Mountains of Utah, Tetons of Wyoming, and all mountain areas in northern Nevada maintained their deepest snow packs on record for so late in the season. As of July 10th a snowdrift remained along the banks of the Snake River in Jackson Hole at an elevation of 6,500’ (I just witnessed that--first time in the 50 summers I've spent in Jackson Hole to see such). The Teton Ski Resort measured 732” of snowfall at its mid-mountain site (Raymer Plot) at 9,300’ elevation, the most snowfall in a season ever measured anywhere in Wyoming. Other locations reporting their snowiest winter season ever include Ely, Nevada: 110.4” total; Glasgow, Montana: 108.6” total; Williston, North Dakota: 107.2” total; Youngstown, Ohio: 115.6” total; and Tulsa, Oklahoma with 26.1” season total.

A powerful tornado struck Springfield, Massachusetts on June 1st killing four and injuring at least 33. There were also reports of two other tornadoes around the state. This was one of the most severe tornado outbreaks in the state’s history.



The Springfield tornado crossed the Connecticut River on the afternoon of June 1st and literally sucked the river water into its vortex. Still image from a video taken above the river.

A late night heat burst swept over Wichita, Kansas between 12:22 and 12:42 a.m. on June 9th. The temperature spiked from 85° to 102° in that twenty minute period before retuning to normal.

The dew point at Las Vegas fell to -22° at 4:30 p.m. on June 28th while the air temperature stood at 107° resulting in a 0.6% humidity reading, probably the lowest ever measured at any site in the United States.

The coldest temperature reported in the northern hemisphere this past June was -35.5°F (-37.5°C) at Summit station, Greenland on June 1st.

SOUTH AMERICA and CENTRAL AMERICA

Although not a meteorological event, the eruption of Chile’s Puyehue volcano created a spectacular lightning storm in its ash cloud June 4-8.



A spectacular image of the ash cloud electric storm generated by the eruption of the Puyehue volcano near Osomo city in southern Chile. Photo by Ivan Alvarado.

A large thunderstorm complex drifted over Haiti for two days in early June dropping over 10” of rain and causing floods that killed at least 23 people.

The warmest temperature recorded in the Southern Hemisphere this past June was 37.7°C (99.9°F) at Conceicao do Araguaia, Brazil on June 29th.

EUROPE

The United Kingdom recorded its coolest June in 10 years (since 2001). This comes on the heels of one of its warmest springs, especially April that was actually warmer than June in some locations.

Meanwhile a heat wave in late June in France and Spain broke over 30 monthly records at various sites. Bordeaux, France peaked at 39.6°C (103.8°F) on June 26th, its warmest June temperature on record.

The warm and dry spring resulted in the earliest snow melt in the Alps on record.

AFRICA

South Africa experienced one of its wettest Junes on record with precipitation averaging 10 to 25 times above normal.

A single bolt of lightning killed at least 23 and injured 47 at a primary school in Kiryandongo, Uganda on June 28th. This is perhaps the deadliest single lightning event on record (aside from aircraft brought down by lightning) in the world eclipsing the 21 killed by a single bolt near Mutare, Zimbabwe on December 23, 1975

ASIA

Flooding in China’s Hubei Province resulted in approximately 260 deaths during June monsoonal rains that were further aggravated by the remnants of Tropical Storm Sarika. It was also the 2nd warmest June on record in China since weather data collection began in 1951.

Russia’s Arctic became entirely snow-free for the first time on record by mid-June. Forest fires have broken out in many Siberian regions (1.5 million acres have so far been consumed and three fire fighters have died). the summer is looking ominous in this regard for much of Russia and officials fear that the situation could even become worse than last summer’s situation.

A remarkable world record was set at Khassab (airport), Oman on June 27th when the minimum temperature for the day failed to fall below 107.1°F (41.7°C). This is the highest minimum temperature ever recorded in the world to date.

The hottest temperature in the northern hemisphere and the world during the past June was 126.5°F (52.5°C) recorded at Sulaibya, Kuwait on June 1st.

AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND

Australia finally had a fairly normal month weather-wise in June. The exception being that the Northern Territory recorded its coldest average minimum temperatures on record.



Map of average minimum temperature anomaly for Australia during June. The Northern Territory reported its coldest such on record. Graphic from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The national extremes for the month ranged from a high of 34.4°C (93.9°F) at Noonamah, Northern Territory on June 26th to a low of -13.0°C (8.6°F) at Charlotte Pass, New South Wales on June 28th. The wettest day brought 250mm (9.84”) of rainfall to Woolgoolga, New South Wales on June 14th.

New Zealand has experienced its 3rd warmest June on record. An interesting aside is that the New Zealand Meteorological Office uncovered a new national all-time minimum temperature of -25.6°C (-14.1°F) apparently recorded at Ranfurly on July 17, 1903. This surpasses the heretofore record of -21.6°C (-6.9°F) at Ophir on July 3rd, 1995 and is also a new record for all of Oceania since it is lower than Australia’s record of -23.0°C (-9.4°F) set on June 29, 1994.

ANTARCTICA

The coldest temperature recoded in the Southern Hemisphere and the world during this past June was -112.2°F (-80.1°C) at Concordia station on Antarctica on June 15th.

KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data and other useful information like the new New Zealand all-time record low temperature of 1903 that was recently uncovered..

Extreme Weather

Updated: 6:33 AM GMT on July 18, 2011

Permalink

About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.