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Galveston, Texas, hurricane 1900December 13, 1999 — The nation's climate and weather experts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today unveiled the top weather, water, and climate events of the 20th century. Dozens of NOAA scientists contributed to a listing of U.S. and global storms and climate events noted for their atmospheric marvel or impact on human life. (Click image for larger view.)

"The lists demonstrate the wide range of weather calamities that impact much of the world's public, supports the notion that our never-ending search to completely understand these powerful climate and weather events will remain somewhat elusive," said D. James Baker, the under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "The listing commemorates the century's weather for its intensity, scope, and impact. It is by no means an exhaustive list," said Baker.

In compiling the listing, NOAA climatologists, meteorologists and hydrologists had the difficult job of selecting a few of the world's most notable tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, climate events and other weather phenomena that have marked this century of weather. Some factors that were taken into consideration included an event's magnitude, meteorological uniqueness, as well as its economic impact and death toll. Some of America's best meteorological minds each brought a perspective based upon their area of expertise to advise on the compilation.

"While there were certainly many notable weather events during this past century, this is a listing of those events which stand out in the minds of America's weather and climate specialists," said Baker. "These events are meteorologically exceptional and also uncommon due to their impact on society. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s, for example, caused an entire migration of people, led to shifts in land usage, and altered the economy at that period."

"When laid out in this compilation, these occurrences form a historical road map of progress in weather, water and climate forecasting," said John J. Kelly Jr., director of NOAA's National Weather Service. "They are both a reminder of our vulnerability to the atmosphere, and a testament to the advances we have made. These events are the big ones that have helped shape America's relationship with the atmosphere, and have helped further our understanding of mother nature."

Top U.S. Weather/Water/Climate Events (no particular order):

Click here for background on the climate/weather events listed below.

– Galveston Hurricane, 1900

historic photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

– Dust Bowl, 1930s
historic photos: 1, 2, 3

Super Tornado Outbreak, 1974
All About Tornadoes

– Hurricane Camille, 1969
historic photos: 1, 2, 3, 4
Hurricane Camille photo page

– The Great Midwest Flood, 1993

– El Niño Episodes, 1982-83 & 1997-98

– Hurricane Andrew, 1992
Hurricane Andrew Photos: 1

Hurricane Andrew Report

– New England Hurricane, 1938
Historic photos: 1, 2

– Superstorm, 1993

– Tri-state Tornado, 1925

Okla./Kan. Tornado Outbreak, 1999

– The Great Okeechobee Hurricane & Flood, 1928

– The Storm of the Century, 1950

– Florida Keys Hurricane, 1935

– New England Blizzard, 1978

Top Global Weather/Water/Climate Events (no particular order):

Click here for background on the climate/weather events listed below.

– Yangtze River Flood, China, 1931
– North Vietnam Flood, 1971
– Great Iran Flood, 1954
– Bangladesh Cyclone, 1970
– Bangladesh Cyclone, 1991
– China Typhoons, 1912, 1922
– Hurricane Mitch, Honduras & Nicaragua, 1998
– Typhoon Vera, Japan, 1958
– Typhoon Thelma, Philippines, 1991
– Asian Droughts (India 1900,1907,1965-67; China 1907,1928-30,1936,1941-42; and Soviet Union 1921-22)
– Sahel Drought, Africa, 1910-1914, 1940-44, 1970-85
– Iran Blizzard ,1972
– Europe Storm Surge, 1953
– Great Smog of London, 1952
– El Niño, 1982-83

"While this century's weather is amazing, so too is the progress NOAA's National Weather Service has made in understanding and forecasting the relationship between weather, water and climate," said Kelly. "The National Weather Service uses technology and experience to advance in all areas of weather, water, and climate forecasting in order to save more lives and property than ever. Hurricanes that were once a deadly surprise are now methodically forecast and tracked. Snowstorms and blizzards are now forecast days or weeks in advance, and tornadoes are detected an average of 12 minutes before they hit the ground. In addition, we are now able to offer seasonal climate forecasts months before the weather changes."

NOAA's National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world that includes data from systems, such as NOAA satellites, Doppler radars, automated ground sensors, sophisticated computers and a network of modernized forecasting offices across the country. The highly trained and skilled workforce issues more than 734,000 weather forecasts, 850,000 river and flood forecasts, and between 45,000 and 50,000 potentially life-saving severe weather warnings annually. The National Weather Service warnings and forecasts help protect lives and property and enhance the national economy—all for approximately $4 per person per year.

"Ultimately, improved forecast reliability benefits us all. As we look to the next century of weather, I say with complete confidence that our weather forecasts and warnings will continue to keep the public safe and informed," said Kelly. "Our goal is to become America's no-surprise weather service that provides longer warning lead times of severe weather and more accurate weather, water and climate forecasts in time scales of minutes, to seasons, to years."


NOAA's Top Global Weather, Water and Climate Events of the 20th Century
(PDF version - you need Adobe Acrobat Reader)

NOAA's Top U.S. Weather, Water and Climate Events of the 20th Century
(PDF version - you need Adobe Acrobat Reader)