WunderBlog Archive » Weather Extremes

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

A Wild Ride Weather-wise the past Four Days

By: Christopher C. Burt, 10:28 PM GMT on January 31, 2013

A Wild Ride Weather-wise for the Eastern Half of the U.S. the past Four Days

A powerful cold front swept across the eastern two thirds of the nation Tuesday and Wednesday resulting in record warmth, rains and severe storms ahead of the front, and deep snow and frigid temperatures at the back of the system. Here are some of the storm’s highlights.

The surface weather map for 7 a.m. EST on January 30th shows the complex frontal system that produced the deadly tornado in Georgia while heavy snowfall was falling over Iowa and Wisconsin. NOAA map.

Record Warmth

Numerous locations reported their warmest January monthly temperatures on record between January 28th and 31st. According to the NCDC there were a total of 48 all-time monthly records broken during this time period (although many of these are for sites with short periods of record and a few were obvious METAR errors). Nevertheless, some significant records were tied or broken at major sites with long POR’s. Here is a list of those:

94° (34.4°C) at Laredo, Texas on Jan. 28 (old record 93°/33.9°C on Jan. 3, 1971)

77° (25°C) at Topeka, Kansas on Jan. 28 (old record 74°/23.3°C on Jan. 8, 2003)

77° (25°C) at Columbia, Missouri on Jan. 28 (old record 77°/25°C on Jan. 24, 1950)

76° (24.4°C) at Kansas City (Downtown) on Jan. 28 (old record 75°/23.9°C on Jan. 24, 1950)

77° (25°C) at Topeka, Kansas on Jan. 28 (old record 74°/23.3°C on Jan. 8, 2003)

91° (32.8°C) at Corpus Christi, Texas on Jan. 29 (old record 91°/32.8°C on Jan. 30, 1971)

85° (29.4°C) at Jacksonville, Florida on Jan. 30 (old record 84°/28.9°C on Jan. 31, 1982)

53° (11.7°C) at Caribou, Maine on Jan. 31 (old record 53°/11.7°C on Jan. 15, 1995)

The NCDC also reported a total of 490 daily record highs set during this same time frame (Jan. 28-31) although the above-mentioned caveats apply to this figure as well. There were 5 daily record lows reported during the period, all in the Great Basin region.

Cold, but no Significant Records

Bitter arctic air flowed in from Canada following the passage of the front, dropping temperatures 50°F (28°C) in some places across the Plains. Wind chill values were especially notable with Minot AFB, North Dakota registering a chill of -51° (-46.1°C) on the morning of Jan. 31st. Actual low temperatures fell to -20° to -25°F range, figures that are not unusual for this time of the year.

It has been interesting how the popular media reacted to the week-long cold wave that affected the Midwest and East Coast last week (Jan. 20-27). It was lead story on both the national and local TV networks with breathless reporters shivering in the windy streets of New York City or Minneapolis, etc.. What was significant, however, was that the cold wave was simply a typical January event that used to be common every winter (typical in terms of what the temperatures actually fell to). Of course, since last winter had no major arctic outbreaks, the recent cold was the first such in at least two years for many major cities east of the Mississippi. Everyone seems to have forgotten what normal winter weather feels like!

Severe Weather Outbreak

The cold front aligned with an extraordinarily strong low level jet with winds streaking along at 95 mph at the 850 mb level which is around 4000’ (1200 m). This helped spawn at least 34 tornadoes including one EF-3 twister that devastated Adairsville, Georgia killing at least one person. It was the first tornado fatality in the U.S. in 219 days, the longest fatality-free stretch in modern U.S. history. Angela Fritz has a blog today with more details on this event.

A graphic produced by the NWS shows just how intense the low-level jet was over the Appalachian spine during the morning of January 30th. The NWS stated that a LLJ of this intensity in this part of the country is observed only about once in a decade. NWS graphic.

The 500 mb contours map for 7 a.m. EST on January 30th. Many commercial pilots reported severe turbulence when flying through the jet stream during the day. NOAA map.

Record Rainfalls and High Winds

A very moist air mass was entrained into the atmosphere ahead of the frontal passage with extreme QPF’s (precipitable values) that exceeded any previously observed in January over the upper Midwest and Northeast. Caribou, Maine for instance reached a value of 1.21” at 7 a.m. on January 30th, tying their record for atmospheric moisture content last set on Jan. 14, 2005. Record January QPF’s were observed also in Detroit, Michigan: 1.21" old record: 1.20" on Jan. 11, 1975 and Lincoln, IL: 1.46" old Record: 1.35" Jan. 12, 1960.

Widespread rainfalls of 1-3” occurred in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and New England. Houghton Lake, Michigan recorded its wettest January day on record when 1.21” fell eclipsing their previous record of 1.08” set in 1938. The Memphis, Tennessee WFO (Weather Forecast Office) picked up 4.41” of rain on Jan. 29-30. Madison, Wisconsin recorded 1.62” of precipitation on Jan. 29th, its wettest January day since Jan. 1, 1892.

This satellite image shows the impressive plume of moisture sucked up ahead of the front. The photo was taken at 8:25 a.m. on January 30th by NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite.

High winds raked the mid-Atlantic and northeast on January 30th with 50-60 mph gust common. A peak gust of 81 mph was measured at the Blue Hill Observatory southwest of Boston. Falling trees and power lines caused widespread power outages with 215,000 customers blacked out at one point.

Some Snow as well

A band of heavy snow developed across Iowa and Wisconsin on January 29-30 depositing a general accumulation of 5-10” across both states. The maximum depth reported was 10” in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. It is interesting that Madison picked up 5-8” just one day after recording a record daily high of 54° (12.2°C), only 4°F short of their all-time monthly heat record along with a record daily rainfall.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.