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Heavy rains, snows, and season's first tornadoes hit Texas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:41 PM GMT on January 10, 2012

The nation's first major winter storm rumbled through Texas yesterday, bringing much appreciated heavy rains. The storm set also spawned the year's first two tornadoes, and brought record-setting heavy snows to West Texas. A wide swath of 3 - 5 inches of rain fell over much of Eastern Texas and Southern Louisiana, bringing isolated flooding to the drought-ravaged region. Houston, Texas received 4.06" of rain, breaking the previous record rainfall for the date of 2.54". It was the heaviest rainfall for Houston since the 4.87" that fell October 15, 2007. Drought-stricken Texas has now received the heaviest precipitation, relative to average, of any state in the U.S. during 2012, thanks to a highly abnormal jet stream pattern that is keeping the northern polar branch of the jet stream far to the north in Canada. The latest GFS model forecast predicts that this unusually dry pattern will persist for at least the next ten days, with the possibility of it breaking down during the last week of January.

Figure 1. Radar-estimated precipitation ending Tuesday morning, January 10, 2012, shows a wide swath of 3 - 5 inches for much of Eastern Texas and Southern Louisiana.

Figure 2. Departure of precipitation from average for the 7-day period January 2 - January 9, ending at 7 am EST. Texas has been the wettest state in the U.S., and the rest of the country has been incredibly dry. Image credit: NOAA/Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.

Year's first tornado hits Texas City
The first tornado of 2012 touched down near 1pm CST in Texas City yesterday. The twister hit the Mall of the Mainland, damaging its roof and blowing out windows of parked cars. No injuries were reported, but the storm flooded the mall with 2 - 3 inches of water, and the mall remains closed today. A separate tornado affected Fort Bend County, Texas, but caused no damage or injuries. January is typically the quietest month of the year for tornadoes in the U.S.; during the past three years, we've averaged seventeen tornadoes in the month of January. A few more tornadoes are possible today, as NOAA's Storm Prediction Center predicts that a slight chance of severe weather will continue along the cold front of the storm that spawned yesterday's tornadoes. New Orleans, the Florida Panhandle, and most of Mississippi and Alabama are at risk of seeing a few tornadoes and damaging winds from severe thunderstorms.

Heavy snow in West Texas sets all-time snow records for Midland
Yesterday's storm dumped 10.6 inches of snow on Midland, Texas, setting a record for the heaviest 1-day snow in city history. The previous record was the 9.8" that fell December 10 - 11, 1998. Midland's total snowfall for the winter of 2011 - 2012 is now 19.5". With winter not even half over, this smashes their previous seasonal snowfall record of 13.9", set in the winter of 1946 - 1947. Remarkably, Midland (population 111,000) has had more snow this year than America's four snowiest cities with population greater than 75,000--Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo (in New York's lake-effect snow belts), and Duluth, Minnesota:

Heavy snows hit Southern Alaska
If you're wondering where all of the snow that usually hits California's Sierras and the northern tier of U.S. states is going, the answer is Southern Alaska. This winter's highly abnormal jet stream pattern is slamming an unending series of heavy snow storms into Southern Alaska, where the snow totals are mind-bending. A snow storm on Sunday dumped 15.2" of snow on Valdez, Alaska, bringing the total snow this season to 290.5". That's 24.2 feet (7.4 meters), and is 12 feet (3.7 meters) above what the city normal has by January 10. The city is still a ways from breaking their monthly or seasonal snowfall records--their highest monthly snowfall was 180" in February 1996, and their highest seasonal total was 550.7", set during the winter of 1989 - 1990. Valdez received 152.2" of snow during December 2011, setting a new December snowfall record (records go back to 1949.) According to wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt, Valdez is the snowiest low-level location in the world and averages about 328" every winter season. The Alaska state snowfall record is 974.1" (81.2', or 24.7 meters) at Thompson Pass in 1952-1953, just up the highway from Valdez. This record is beyond reach, since the site is no longer is no longer operating. The latest forecast for Valdez calls for another 10 - 15 inches of snow today.

I'll have a new post on Wednesday or Thursday.

Jeff Masters
Houston Flood Day Skyline
Houston Flood Day Skyline
I shot this skyline during a short break in the rain today. We needed rain so badly here in Houston but we got too much of it all at once and now there's flooding all over the city! For my live webcam view approxiamtely where this was taken (you can see the webcam in the photo), Click here. For more of my photography, visit my Flickr page.
Heavy Houston Rain
Heavy Houston Rain
Field flooding at Rice University due to heavy rain on the morning of 1/9/2012
Marshmallow Tree
Marshmallow Tree
Time to pick the marshmallows:) Palmer, Alaska
Midland Snow
Midland Snow
Snow fall taken Jan 9 2012 abt an hour ago.

Winter Weather Drought

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