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, 8:20 PM GMT on January 27, 2012
Wild January Temperature Swings in the U.S.A. and Canada and Record Chinooks (but not this January). BREAKING NEWS: -79°F in Alaska on January 28th?
Scroll to bottom of blog for Jim River breaking news.
The month of January is looking like it may be one of the top five warmest for the contiguous United States. Aside for one good arctic outbreak during the week of January 14-20 it has been a mild month with several Chinook wind events affecting Montana and other western mountain states. Here are some historical examples of the most intense Chinook events to have occurred in the U.S. and Canada.
Chinook winds (named after a Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest where the phenomena was first observed by French explorers) occur during the winter months when Pacific storms moving inland come against the Rocky Mountains and, as the storm winds flow down the eastern slopes, they are heated adiabatically and dry out.
A simple graphic illustrating the cause of Chinook wind events.
The region most prone to these winds in North America is the area around Lethbridge in southern Alberta thanks to the topography in the mountains to the west of the area where passes and valleys help funnel the down-sloping effect of the Chinooks.
A map of the Canadian province of Alberta showing the region most affected by Chinook events. The yellow area sees 1-5 Chinook days a year, the orange area 5-10, and the red area 10 or more. Map from The Atlas of Canada.
Pincher Creek (about 50 miles west of Lethbridge) once recorded a temperature rise of 40°F (22°C) in one hour (from -2°F/-19°C to 38°F/3°C) during a Chinook on January 27, 1962. In Lethbridge winds as high as 106 mph (171 km/h) were measured during a Chinook on November 17, 1962. Mid-winter temperatures as high as 75°F (24°C) have been recorded in Alberta during Chinook events, as was the case at Claresholm in February 1992. This is close to the warmest temperature ever measured during a winter month anywhere in Canada.
A (perhaps apocryphal) story relates how on January 11, 1983 during the construction on Calgary’s Petro-Canada Center carpenters on the 45th floor, about 460 feet (145m) above the street, worked in their shirt sleeves as a warm Chinook brought 55°F/12°C temperatures (as measured by the crane operator). Cold air, however, was still trapped at street level where the temperature stood at -4°F/-20°C.
A Chinook arch cloud forms over Calgary, Alberta on the evening of January 6, 2003. The formation is caused by a wave-like wind flow over the mountains to the west. On this day Calgary recorded its warmest January temperature on record: 64°F/18°C. Photo from Wikipedia, photographer undisclosed.
In the United States, Montana is most susceptible to Chinooks. The most extreme example of which was when the temperature rose 103°F in 24 hours (from -54°F to 49°F) at Loma, Montana on January 14-15, 1972. The greatest 24-hour temperature change ever recorded on earth. Some other extreme examples include an 83°F rise in 12 hours at Granville, North Dakota on February 21, 1918 and a 47° rise in Great Falls, Montana in seven minutes on January 11, 1980! When the temperature rose 80° in 15 hours at Kipp, Montana on December 1, 1896 the dry wind apparently melted and evaporated a 30” snow pack in a single day.
The Famous Black Hills, South Dakota Temperature Antics
The Black Hills of western South Dakota can have a strange effect on Chinooks because of the hills unique location topography. The mountains sit isolated on the northern Great Plains and are often subject to Chinook winds. The warm winds sometimes just blow over ridges and leave cold air trapped in the valleys below. The fight between the dense cold air and light warm air causes the two to slosh back and forth from valley to hilltop, sometimes repeatedly during the course of a day causing wild temperature variations. The most famous example of this occurred on January 22, 1943. Spearfish saw its temperature warm from -4°F at 7:30 a.m. to 45°F at 7:32 a.m., a 45-degree rise in just two minutes during the morning of January 22nd. By 9:00 a.m. the temperature had risen gradually to 54°F when it suddenly dropped again to -4°F over the next 27 minutes. Dressing for the day must have been problematic for Spearfish’s residents. Rapid City suffered the same effect a few hours later as evidenced by the thermograph trace below.
The town of Lead, up in the hills, experienced such a shocking change in temperature that plate-glass windows cracked. At one point, the town of Deadwood, in a canyon 600 feet lower than Lead but only one and a half miles away, had a temperature of -16° at the same time that it was 52° in Lead. Wind gusts of 40–50 mph were whipping through the region. Motorists found it difficult to drive as their windshields would instantly frost over as they drove from a warm pocket to a cold one.
In Rapid City a thermograph trace captured the temperature swings on January 22, 1943. Graphic from ‘Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book’.
Temperature Swings this January (2012)
Nothing as dramatic as the Chinook events listed above has yet occurred this January although there have been several mild Chinook events from Alberta to Colorado and across the western Great Plains. In Livingston, Montana (windiest town in America) the wind has gusted to over 70 mph on five days so far this month (as of January 26) and over 50 mph on 17 days. Sheridan, Wyoming reached 67°F on January 5th close to its warmest January temperature on record (which was 70° on Jan. 9, 1953 and again on Jan. 15, 1974). By January 16th the arctic outbreak mentioned in my opening paragraph brought the temperature down to -20°F and -20°F again on Jan. 19th before rebounding to 56° by January 25th. Minot, North Dakota saw an all-time January high of 61°F on January 5 (accompanied by Chinook winds gusting to 47 mph). This smashed the previous January high of 59° set way back on January 28, 1906. Denver, Colorado saw its temperature rise from 2°F on January 17th to 61°F on January 19th.
Not associated with a Chinook but worthy of note was the amazing warm-up at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks of northern New York state. The temperature rose 68°F in 36 hours on January 16-17 from -27°F to 41°F.
Also, Fairbanks, Alaska saw its temperature rise 62°F on January 9-10 from -41°F to 21°F. It has been one of the coldest months in some years for portions of Alaska.
-79°F in Alaska on January 28th?
Breaking news is a report from Alaska that a reading of -79°F (-61.2°C) has just been reported from Jim River, Alaska on January 28th. This would represent a tie for the 2nd coldest temperature ever measured in the U.S. if verified. I have a query in to the state climatologist, Peter Olsson, for confirmation. If true, the only colder or as cold readings on record for Alaska (and thus the USA) would be -80°F at Prospect Creek, -79° at Circle. I think this figure is suspicious since the daily maximum was reported as -68°F and thus the coldest daily maximum ever recorded in North America. According to the daily summary from WSO Fairbanks the coldest temperature on Jan. 28 at any COOP site has just been -63° at a few sites. UPDATE: Peter Olsson has just emailed me (Jan. 29) saying that the reading from Jim River has a chance of being authentic. The site is apparently nearby Prospect Creek which holds the offical lowest temperature ever recorded in Alaska (-80°F) and that this area is known to be the coldest region in the state so far as absolute minimum temperatures are concerned. The site went off-line yesterday and this could be because of the extreme cold which can play havoc with communications.
New Update on Jim River -79°F Temperature Report
This figure has been disallowed by the Alaska State Climatologist, Dr.Peter Olsson. The figure was apparently a result of low battery failure at a personal weather station at the site. The Davis Vantage Pro2 instrument apparently used at Jim River D.O.T. is not considered reliable for readings lower than -40°F/C°.
Christopher C. Burt
KUDOS: To Peter Olsson, Alaska State Climatologist for information concerning the purported -79° at Jim River
Updated: 5:57 AM GMT on January 31, 2012
By: weatherhistorian, 12:20 AM GMT on January 20, 2012
The Pacific Northwest’s Greatest Storm: The ‘Storm King’ of January 1880
This past week brought the low elevations of western Washington its most significant snowstorm since December 2008 and for some locations since 1985. Seattle Airport (Sea-Tac) picked up 6.8” in 24 hours on December 18th and a storm total of 9.3” between December 15-18. Olympia, Washington, the state capital, received 11.0” on the 18th and a storm total of 14.2” Dec. 15-18th. However, the WSO Seattle Downtown site got just 3.5” on the 18th and a storm total of 5.5”.
A stunning photograph of the recent snowstorm in progress at Tacoma, Washington. Photo by Jack Moskovita submitted to the wunderground.com image collection.
As is always the case in Puget Bay region snowstorms, slight differences of elevation can play a huge role in snow accumulations, the difference of 500 feet sometimes resulting in a snow accumulation difference of 1” or 10”. Although snow is relatively rare at sea level locations in the region, incredible accumulations have occurred historically. The greatest snowstorm, and perhaps overall worst storm in SW Washington and NW Oregon history, was that dubbed the ‘Storm King’ event of January 9, 1880.
Details About the ‘Storm King’
Little data is available for the so-called ‘Storm King’ of January 1880, but it appears the storm center came ashore just south of Astoria, Oregon, on January 9th when a barometric pressure of 28.45” was registered in the town. Portland bottomed out at 28.56”, and for both locations these remain the lowest barometric-pressure readings on record. A ship, the S.S. Oregon near the mouth of the Umpqua River (where the town of Reedsport, Oregon, is today), reported a pressure of 955 mb/28.20” (as did another vessel, the Victoria, 45-50 miles NW of the Oregon A pressure of 955 mb is the equivalent strength of a major Category 3 hurricane, and the lowest pressure ever measured anywhere along the West Coast of the United States. In all probability, the actual lowest pressure of the storm was lower than those actually measured.
Winds gusted over 70 mph in Portland, causing extensive damage and several deaths. Along the coast, wind gusts probably exceeded 100 mph. Enormous damage was done to the forests of both Oregon and Washington. Just outside of Portland, 500 to 600 trees were blown down over the railroad tracks between Beaverton and Hillsboro, a distance of just 10 miles. In the Puget Sound region of Washington, record snowfalls that collapsed buildings were reported.
Snowfall associated with the ‘Storm King’
It is very unusual that a cyclone of this nature would result in heavy snowfalls at low-level locations in the Pacific Northwest. Usually, these types of intense low-pressure systems, moving from the southwest to northeast, would bring mild maritime temperatures with them and snow would fall only at high elevations. We must assume that a very cold air mass must have been located over southern British Columbia and Alberta and that, with the storm passing inland over Oregon, an occluded front must have allowed cold air to spread south and westward wrapping around the low pressure center.
Following the storm, snow lay four to six feet deep in Seattle, collapsing many structures. In Tacoma, 54” lay on the ground, although it isn’t clear just how much of this snow fell during the ‘Storm King’ event and how much might already have been on the ground. In any case, no such depths have been approached since. It is estimated that the storm itself must have deposited around 20-30” at sea level in Seattle and up to four feet in the Olympia area where several structures also collapsed as a result of snow loads. Also, an astonishing storm snowfall total of 48” was reported from Port Townsend on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. A place that is normally in the rain shadow of Pacific storms, more evidence that the flow across Washington was east to west.
Ironically, the snow in Seattle began falling on January 5th right after Territorial Governor Elisha Ferry's State of the Territory message that assured the world that "ice and snow are almost unknown in Washington Territory."
Two of the six known photographs of Seattle during or immediately following the great ‘Storm King’ event. It is amazing to see such snow accumulations right at sea level in the harbor (bottom photo). Note the wagon half-buried in snow in the top photo which is a view looking east on Cherry Street. Bottom photo from Museum of History and Industry archives, Seattle, and top photo from Paul Dorpat collection.
In Oregon, 5” of snow was reported “just several miles inland” from the coast at Newport with 18” reported at Siletz, just 10 miles northeast of Newport and at an elevation of just 150 feet. Eugene, Oregon reported 5” of snow, but surprisingly little snow was reported from the city of Portland.
Below is map produced by Wolf Read for the Office of the Washington State Climatologist illustrating some of the highlights of the storm:
KUDOS: Wolf Read of OWSC wrote an extensive and detailed report about the ‘Storm King’ which can be found here. Mr. Read is probably the foremost authority on historic Pacific Northwest storms.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 5:37 AM GMT on January 20, 2012
By: weatherhistorian, 10:37 PM GMT on January 13, 2012
December 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary
December was a relatively quiet month weather-wise in the United States but a wild one for much of Europe where three major Atlantic storms took a swipe at the region. Some of the month’s highlights include a devastating flood in the Philippines, the warmest temperature yet measured at the South Pole, record dryness in portions of California, and a near all-time record high temperature for Australia.
Below is a summary some of the month’s highlights.
A quiet month with mild temperatures prevailed across much of the United States. December was Alaska’s 3rd warmest such on record. California, Oregon, and Nevada recorded their 2nd driest December on record with several locations in California (Salinas and Fresno) reporting their driest December ever. Snowfall was virtually non-existent in the Sierra Nevada.
A snow survey in California’s Sierra Nevada towards the end of December comes up empty. Normally there should be about 6 feet of snow at this site at this time of the year. Photo Rich Pedroncelli, AP.
Ironically, the only region that had unusual cold and snow was in the interior Southwest (New Mexico, west Texas, and southern Colorado), the same region afflicted by record-breaking heat and drought last summer. Pueblo, Colorado had its snowiest December on record with an 18.6” accumulation. Midland, Texas had 5.8” of snow on December 24th, its 2nd greatest December snowfall on record. Lamar, Colorado (in the state’s southeastern plains) received 19.0” of snow on December 20th, its 2nd greatest 24-hour snow on record (the all-time record remains 22.0” on October 26, 1997, records go back to 1890).
NOAA’s temperature and precipitation ranking maps for December 2011.
The coldest temperature in the northern hemisphere and the world during December was a frigid -80.1°F (-62.3°C) reported at Summit, Greenland on December 5th.
SOUTH AMERICA and CENTRAL AMERICA
Hot temperatures, drought, and high winds contributed to massive wild fires in Chile’s Magallanes, Bio Bio, and Maule regions. Over 90 square miles of forest was consumed and 100 homes destroyed. One fatality was reported.
In neighboring Argentina the temperature soared to an all-time record high of 108.3°F (42.4°C) at Cordoba, the 2nd largest city in Argentina.
Massive winter storms, three in all, pummeled northern Europe during the month. The first storm dealt a powerful blow to Scotland where a peak wind gust of 164 mph was measured on Cairngorm Summit (altitude about 4,000’) on December 8th.
High winds blew lorries over on Scotland’s A83 highway near Loch Restil on December 8th. Photo credit blipfoto.com/Richard.
The second storm on Dec. 15-18th was one of the most powerful on record in Germany. For details see my blog posted on December 18. A third storm occurred during the last week of the month, mostly affecting Scotland and northern Europe, again with high winds.
The month was one of the warmest January’s on record for most of central and northern Europe, especially in Scandinavia where temperatures averaged almost 10°F above normal.
In the United Kingdom, it was the warmest December since 2006. The temperature extremes for the month ranged from a high of 59.9°F (15.5°C) at Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire on December 26th to a low of 15.1°F (-9.4°C) at Loch Glascarnoch in Scotland on the 18th. The most precipitation measured in a 24-hour period was 2.78” (70.5mm) at Achnagart, Scotland on December 25-26th.
The warmest temperature measured in the northern hemisphere was 104.0°F (40.0°C) at Damazine, Sudan on December 30th.
Very hot weather affected South Africa early in the month when a temperature of 114.0°F (45.5°C) was reported at Vredendal and the tiny island of Europa (a French protectorate off the coast of South Africa) recorded its all-time highest temperature of 96.1°F (35.6°C) on December 7th.
The biggest story of the month was the catastrophic flooding that accompanied Tropical Storm Washi following its passage over the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on December 16-17th. The area is well south of the normal typhoon path so the local population was unprepared for the intense rains the storm produced (up to 8”). At this time the death toll is estimated at between 1,200 and 1,300 making this the deadliest storm-related event in the world for 2011.
Rescuers search for survivors in the Cagayan de Oro region of Mindanao Island in the Philippines following the floods caused by Tropical Storm Washi. Photo from Reuters News Agency.
Another tropical storm, Cyclone Thane struck the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu south of Madras at Pondicherry on December 30-31st killing at least 47. Winds peaked at 90 mph.
In spite of being a cooler than normal month nation-wide, a heat wave just before Christmas brought record temperatures to portions of Western Australia. A maximum of 120.9°F (49.4°C) was measured at Roebourne on December 21st. This was just shy of the all-time national high of 123.3° (50.7°C) set at Oodnadatta, South Australia on January 2, 1960. An all-time record high was set for the town of Onslow as well with 120.6°F (49.2°C) on the same date and at Learmonth with a 120.0°F (48.9°C) reading.
The coolest temperature measured in Australia during December was 23.9°F (-4.5°C) at Mt. Hotham, Victoria on December 5th. The greatest calendar day rainfall was 15.16” (385.0mm) at Edith Falls Ridge, Northern Territory, on December 27th.
The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere during December was -59.4°F (-50.8°C) recorded at Concordia on December 2nd. But the big story for the frozen continent was the all-time record high for the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station when a balmy 9.9°F (-12.3°C) was reported on Christmas Day. Records go back to 1958 at the site. For more details on the event see my blog posted on December 29th.
KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data and Stephen Burt for the U.K. extremes.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 11:36 PM GMT on January 13, 2012
By: weatherhistorian, 9:42 PM GMT on January 06, 2012
Precipitation Records and Anomalies for the U.S. in 2011
The past year saw some remarkable precipitation anomalies across the lower 48 states of the U.S. All-time wettest year on record was reported across a wide swath of the Ohio Valley and Northeast, while portions of Texas recorded their driest year on record. A few all-time state records for anomalous precipitation also occurred.
A very wet late winter and spring in the far West and Rocky mountains contrasted strongly to the driest such period on record for most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The Sierra Nevada of California and the Tetons in Wyoming both came close to breaking their all-time seasonal snow records with 800” accumulations. Seasonal snow records were also broken at Ely, Nevada (110.4”), Glasgow, Montana (108.6”), and Williston, North Dakota (107.2”). In May Billings, Montana shattered both its all-time wettest month on record with 9.54” (old record 7.71” in May 1981) and its 24-hour precipitation record with 3.35” on May 24-25 (old record 3.19” on April 27-28, 1978). These heavy rains and melting snows in the northern Rockies and Plains resulted in the record flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their respective branches during May and June.
During the summer the region of excessive rainfall moved eastward into the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley. In July Dubuque, Iowa reported its wettest month on record with a 16.01” accumulation (old record 15.46” in September 1965) largely the result of its all-time greatest 24-hour rainfall of 10.62” on July 27-28 (old record 8.96” on August 21-22, 2002). Tropical Storms Irene and Lee at the end of August and beginning of September produced phenomenal amounts of rain in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast resulting in numerous all-time monthly and 24-hour precipitation records:
Philadelphia, PA : Wettest month on record 19.31”.
New York, NY: Wettest month on record 18.95”.
Trenton, NJ: Wettest month on record 16.10”. The village of Stockton, about 15 miles north of Trenton, recorded 22.60” in August, shy of the all-time state monthly record of 25.98” at Patterson in September, 1882.
Newark, NJ: Wettest month on record 18.79” (unofficial record of 22.48” set in August 1843). On August 27-28 Tropical Storm Irene broke Newark’s all-time 24-hour precipitation record 8.92”.
Allentown, PA: Wettest month on record 13.47”.
September 4-5: Jackson, MS: all-time 24-hour rainfall 10.68”.
September 5-6: Chattanooga, TN: all-time 24-hour rainfall 9.50”.
September 7-8: Binghamton, NY: all-time 24-hour rainfall 8.70”.
Binghamton, NY: Wettest month on record: 16.58”
Texas Minimum Annual Precipitation Records for 2011
Meanwhile the drought intensified over Texas and portions of the Southern Plains reaching epic proportions in some areas. By the end of the year, however, late fall rains eased the drought situation for much of the region. Nevertheless, 2011 ended up being the driest year on record for Amarillo, Texas: 7.00” (former record 9.56” in 1969 and normal is 19.71”) and in Lubbock, Texas: 5.86” (former record 8.73” in 1917 and normal is 18.69”). The NWS also cited Laredo, Texas as having its driest year on record with a total of 6.66” (normal is 21.53”) although I can find a report of just 4.31” in the year of 1901.
Perhaps, most astonishing is the total annual rainfall of just 1.06” at Pecos, Texas (normal annual precipitation is 11.61”). If confirmed this would be a Texas state record for least amount of precipitation ever recorded in a calendar year, the current record stands at 1.64” at Presidio in 1956. In the 11-month period of Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 1, 2011, Pecos picked up just .03” of precipitation (actually the dry period was longer: from Sept. 23, 2010 to Sept. 13, 2011). See my from last June about how dry it was in Texas and the Southwest until the monsoon rains kicked in during August.
Drought Index at the peak of the summer in Texas. On July 12th a full 71% of the state was under ‘exceptional drought’ conditions.
List of Major U.S. Sites Recording their Wettest Year on Record in 2011
Below is a summary of all the major NWS sites that have so far confirmed having their wettest calendar year on record:
NOTE: For the beginning of record for the various sites listed I include Smithsonian and other pre-USWB records. Also, the ‘normals’ are for the 1971-2000 POR not the latest, still hard to find, 1981-2010 POR’s.
New York City’s Central Park location recorded 72.81” in 2011, its 2nd wettest year on record. The wettest year was supposedly 1983 when 80.56” was measured. However, this is a controversial figure since there were questions about the rain gauge’s condition that year. In fact, Newark (11 miles SW of Central Park) recorded just 65.50” in 1983 and La Guardia (5 miles east of Central Park) reported just 60.84” in 1983, so the 80.56” does seem suspicious.
Any State Precipitation Records Broken?
It will most likely take some time until all the COOP observer forms are in and calculated to determine if any all-time state precipitation records were broken in 2011. As I already mentioned, the preliminary 1.06” at Pecos would be a new dry record for a year in Texas.
In Ohio, the NWS office in Cincinnati has determined that 74.24” of precipitation fell in Cheviot, Hamilton County (just north of Cincinnati) breaking the former record of 70.82” at Little Mountain in 1870 (official state record) and the 72.08” at Mt. Healthy in 1880 (unofficial record). Other states to follow are Pennsylvania where 80.80” accumulated at Mt. Pocono in 2011 just short of the state record of 81.54” also at Mt. Pocono in 1952. Perhaps there may have been a wetter location this past year somewhere in the state.
Illinois bears watching as well, since Cape Girardeau on the border in Missouri recorded 74.51” and the Illinois record is 74.58” at New Burnside in 1950.
I will be curious how much precipitation fell at New York’s Slide Mountain site, the wettest location in the state and in the heart of the region (the Catskill Mountains) most affected by last year’s anomalous precipitation. Slide Mountain measured a state record of 90.97” in 1996, a tall order to beat.
In a similar vein Mt. Mansfield, Vermont measured a record 100.96” in 1996 and since most low-level sites in the state broke their record last year perhaps Mt. Mansfield did as well. Speaking of Vermont, there was an unofficial 11.23” of rain in a 24-hour period at Mendon, Vermont during the passage of Tropical Storm Irene in late August. The official 24-hour rainfall record for Vermont is 9.92” at Mt. Mansfield on September 17, 1999 (TS Floyd).
Mendon, Vermont was isolated for almost a week after TS Irene dumped over 11” of rain in 24 hours over the area. Photo by Vyto Starinkas/The Daily Herald.
As 2012 begins a possible drought is looming over California and, again, the Southwest. Snow depth in the Sierra Nevada is at its lowest on record for this time of year (early January) and no precipitation is in sight for the next two weeks.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 4:39 AM GMT on January 11, 2012