Floods, not tornadoes, continue to be the weather disaster theme of 2014. The extra-tropical remnants of Hurricane Odile spreading soaking and occasionally torrential rain across the Desert Southwest is just another example of flooding in the United States this year. While the flooding has made news, it should be pointed out that the number of floods and the severity of the floods recorded this year are nothing out of the ordinary. But with the Atlantic hurricane season very quiet and with the number of tornadoes this year well below average, most of the weather coverage in the news has been of flooding. Probably the most anomalous and significant weather disaster anywhere in the United States this year is the ongoing multiyear drought in southern California. Meteorologist John Wheeler
June was a wet and stormy month. Rivers are high from Manitoba to Tennessee. Almost every evening on the national news there is coverage about all the severe storms this summer. But the national tornado count on the Storm Prediction Center’s Annual Storm Summary web page shows that the last year to have had so few tornadoes through July 1 was 2005. What about all the rain? It has been wet but nowhere nearly as wet as it was in 1993. June was a bad month in the Great Plains and Midwest for storms. But June was certainly not record bad and it wasn’t really even unusually bad. Instead, network news is just covering the heck out of stormy weather. It is riveting and extremely popular. Weather is good for ratings. And while the coverage is well-intended and truthful, the viewers should not be persuaded by the sheer volume of storm coverage into thinking this summer is out of the ordinary. Meteorologist John Wheeler
An article last week in Nature Climate Change identified the few places around the Northern Hemisphere most prone to extreme weather. Specifically, the study identified those places most likely to have stalled out large-scale jet stream waves as these are the mechanisms for too much rain, snow, cold, heat, etc. For cold air anomalies, we are in a bad spot. It turns out, the eastern half of North America is most vulnerable to long-term cold air outbreaks. The worst flooding occurs in western Asia. Drought is most prevalent across central North America, Europe, and central Asia. Heat waves are most likely over western North America and central Asia. Meteorologist John Wheeler
It was a cool and wet spring, which should not come as a surprise. What may surprise you is that it was neither extremely cold nor extremely wet. The average temperature in Fargo Moorhead for the months of March through May was 39.7 degrees. This is 2.3 degrees colder than the average over the past three decades. March was the most below average of the three months, particularly early March. The first day of March, the high temperature in Fargo Moorhead was eight below, which had occurred at midnight. The afternoon high was ten below. Both March and May were drier than average, but a rainy end to April brought the three spring months up to 0.64 inches above average overall. Almost half the precipitation during the past three months (2.95 of 6.14 inches) fell over the final seven days in April, causing moderate flooding on the Red River. The river has remained slightly swollen ever since. Meteorologist John Wheeler
A severe thunderstorm produced hail accumulations up to six inches deep Wednesday. Snow plows were required to clear some major streets as so much ice was slow to melt even in the warmth of the afternoon. Such hailstorms make vivid pictures but are not as rare as you might think. Sometimes the heaviest rains from thunderstorms come from storms which are not so terrible, just slow-moving. Occasionally, hail storms can be the same way. Hail usually falls in a narrow swath, underneath a powerful updraft region in a storm cell. When that storm is slow to move, the hail is able to really pile up. In extremely rare cases, hail has been known to accumulate to depths of several feet. This can actually kill vegetation and cause road closures for more than a week while the ice melts. Meteorologist John Wheeler
In 1975, 26.30 inches of rain and melted snow was recorded. At the time it was the 15th wettest year on record. Much of the excessive rain that year occurred in June when 9.40 inches was recorded. That June rain was even heavier south of Fargo and that lead to severe summer flooding on both the Red and Sheyenne Rivers among others.
With so much water, thoughts of water shortages was likely not on anyone’s mind that summer. Yet, a year later, in 1976, the Red River in Fargo gradually stopped flowing. Only 8.84 inches of rain and melted snow was recorded in Fargo Moorhead that year, with most of the region also receiving scant precipitation. Plus, with summer temperatures finishing well above average, the lack of rain in combination with high evaporation rates led to many rivers running dry by that autumn.
From summer flood in 1975 to barely a trickle in 1976, such events in our climate are to be expected and it will likely occur again in the future.
Yesterday, I wrote about the huge range in precipitation amounts across Fargo Moorhead in recent weeks. Rain totals from north metro to south metro has varied by as much as 5 inches in the past 5 weeks. But because the official statistics are kept at the airport, the first six months of 2013 will go down as the wettest on record in Fargo Moorhead.
In total, January through June the airport recorded 20.63 inches of rain and melted snow, that is nearly 2 inches greater than the previous record for that period set back in 2000 when 18.83 inches fell during that time frame. As a reference, last year, only 7.42 inches was recorded during the first half of 2012. A vast majority of the rain this year occurred in May and June, principally from two events, the 4.62 inches on May 29 and 30 and the 3.96 inches that fell this past Tuesday Night into early Wednesday morning.
In total 14.89 inches of rain fell at the airport these past two months which is more than fell during all of 2012.
There is no denying that Sandy caused horrific damage to the east coast. Although many people were surprised that such an event hit where it did, most meteorologists on the other hand were instead surprised that area was not hit again sooner. In this space and during many of my public talks I have mentioned that our weather patterns in recent years have transitioned to what occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.
The 1950s recorded several hurricane strikes along the east coast with many causing devastation on par with Sandy. With a much higher population base in combination with increased land use changes along the coast, although exceptionally heart breaking to see, the amount of damage was not unexpected.
Until humans realize that the boundary between land and ocean (or lake and rivers) is not static we are going to continue to experience such destruction in the future, as if we want to admit it or not, the forces of nature can not be controlled.
I posted this to my twitter account (@darylritchison), but I thought I would post it here quickly as well. But New Orleans, LA has the ability to pump nearly 50,000 cfs of water out of the city. Last I heard they were near 70% capacity today. How much water is that? In Fargo Moorhead during the 2009 flood, that was a close call for the city, the Red River peaked at 29,500 cfs locally. So in other words, the pumps in New Orleans could have literally pumped the Red River dry with capacity left over. Technology is a remarkable thing… when it works.
This summer has many parallels to what occurred in 2006. You may recall that 2006 was also a warm dry summer in the region. That summer there were many comments about how the wet cycle must have finally ended and that drier years were ahead.
That year I was asked frequently if I thought our string of wet years was over and my response was to ask me in five years. My reasoning was it would take at least that long before there would be any conclusive evidence that a different precipitation pattern had developed. Certainly, the wet pattern would end eventually, and it may end quickly, but one dry spell does not necessarily mean the end of a long term pattern. 2006 turned out to be just an aberration as the following years were very wet once again, with devastating flooding in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Six years later, it is dry again with the same question being asked and my answer is still the same, ask me in five years.