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TURBULENT YEAR IN WEATHER YEAR-END TIP SHEET: TOP WEATHER
AND NOAA/NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE STORIES
29, 1999 NOTE TO EDITORS: Following is a summary
of the major weather events of 1999 and several 1999 National
Weather Service highlights you may want to develop in your
end-of-the-year reporting. Please contact John
Leslie, NOAA/NWS Public Affairs at (301) 713-0622 should
you need assistance developing these stories.
The United States had another
warm year in 1999. NOAA projects
that the United States will have experienced its second warmest
year on record since 1900 with an average for 1999 of 55.7 degrees
F. This follows 1998's all time record of 56.4 degrees. The values
for both years exceed those of the warm decade of the 1930s.
1999 is consistent with a long-term warming trend observed in
the United States (0.5 degrees C per century), with a substantial
portion of the warming occurring since the mid-1970s.
National Weather Service
said the United States experienced a below-normal year for precipitation,
with nationally averaged precipitation of 30.60 inches, which
was 1.05 inches below average. However, in the Pacific Northwest,
precipitation produced locally heavy rainfall totals.
However, last summer's drought
established records for dryness in the Northeast, the Middle
Atlantic and the Ohio Valley. The April-to-July period was the
driest or second-driest in all states from West Virginia to Maine.
The drought was followed by record rainfall as hurricanes Dennis
and Floyd struck the East Coast.
A record-breaking number of
unusual winter tornadoes in January and more than 70 tornadoes
during one outbreak in May contributed to 1999 being the fourth
busiest year on record for tornadoes, with 1,225 reported. The
agency began keeping records in 1950. A total of 94 deaths occurred
this year from 29 killer tornadoes.
As predicted by the National Weather Service scientists, the
U.S. experienced a busier than normal hurricane season with 12
tropical storms, eight that became hurricanes, and five major
hurricanes. Even this season's weaker storms caused tremendous
damage and loss of life, mostly due to extensive inland flooding.
New Year's Day Blizzard
The National Weather Service began 1999 tracking one of the most
severe winter storms to move through the Midwest in several years.
Forecast several days in advance, the storm brought commerce
to a standstill across much of the Midwest and the Great Lakes.
Thousands of travelers were stranded at airports in Chicago and
Detroit, with some spending hours in planes sitting on the tarmac.
Portions of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan
were covered by one to two feet of snow. Despite the size and
intensity of the storm, death tolls were low thanks to NWS office
long-range forecasts stressed early and often by broadcast media
in the impacted states.
Unprecedented Tornado Totals
A record number of unusual January tornadoes
in the lower Mississippi and Tennessee River Valleys caused January
to be the third most active month for tornadoes this year. A
total of 216 twisters more than tripled the previous record of
50 for the month.
The year began with a tornado
outbreak on Jan. 1 and 2, with 26 tornadoes in Texas and Louisiana
that caused one death. On Jan. 17, 25 tornadoes killed eight
people in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri, causing $90 million
in damage. Four days later, nine people died as 104 tornadoes
struck Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee Jan. 21 and 22, including
the area around the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock, Ark. Damage
totaled $1.3 billion.
Record Rainfall and Snowfall
La Niña-related precipitation produced locally heavy rainfall
totals in the Pacific Northwest. Locations in western Washington
reported their wettest February and wettest water year on record.
Cold temperatures led to a record-setting snow pack in the northern
Cascades. Mt. Baker, Wash., located in northwestern Washington
state, set a new record for the most snowfall ever measured in
the U.S. in a single season at 1,140 inches.
A rare June snowfall occurred
in Los Angeles County, Calif. On June 3, snow melted while falling
at Frazier Park. On June 4, three inches of snow fell at Mt Laguna,
Calif.,which was the latest seasonal measurable snow on record
at this site. The previous latest snowfall was on May 28, 1971,
at Mt. Laguna. Late season snowfall events in southern California
occur only a few times in a century, with the previous occurrence
on June 15, 1995, when 1.5 inches of snow fell at Mt. Wilson.
On July 8, a series of large and powerful thunderstorms dropped
an intense deluge of 1.5 inches to just over 3.0 inches of rainfall
across the Las Vegas valley, forcing flood waters across nearly
every part of the sprawling metropolitan area. This caused new
all-time peak flows on a number of the washes within the Las
Vegas valley. Miraculously, only one fatality resulted directly
from the flood waters, while property damage exceeded $23 million.
Deadly Tornado Outbreak
The most expensive tornado outbreak in U.S. history and the deadliest
of the year occurred May 3 and 4 in Oklahoma and Kansas. In less
than 21 hours, a total of 74 tornadoes touched down across the
two states, with as many as four tornadoes from different storms
on the ground at once.
An F-5 tornado, the strongest
on the Fujita Tornado Scale, moved along a 38- mile path, from
Chickasha through south Oklahoma City and the suburbs of Bridge
Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City. With 8,000
buildings damaged, the Oklahoma City tornado is the most expensive
single tornado in history, causing about a billion dollars in
damage. In all, the tornadoes killed 46 people, injured 800 and
caused $1.5 billion in damage.
The event proved the effectiveness
of the watch and warning program in the modernized National Weather
Service, showing improvement with an average warning lead time
of 18 minutes for the event (up from a national 11 minute average),
with some areas receiving more than 30 minutes notice before
being hit. NOAA storm researchers estimate that more than 600
people would have died in the absence of watches and warnings.
Severe drought conditions persisted from the southeast U.S. into
the northeast from July 1998 to September 1999. While tropical
storm activity provided much-needed rain, many areas continue
with precipitation well below normal levels. The drought had
a devastating effect on crops and brought public water supplies
to dangerously low levels. From April through July, New Jersey,
Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island were the driest they've been
in 105 years of record-keeping by NOAA's
National Climatic Data Center. Four other statesConnecticut,
Massachusetts, New York and West Virginiaexperienced their
second-driest growing season. In addition, April through July
ranks as the second driest such period on record for the Northeast
as a whole. (The driest was in 1965.)
Summer Heat Wave
The latter half of July produced a heat wave over much of the
eastern two-thirds of the country, with maximum temperatures
in the 90's-100's over wide areas. Heat indices of over 110 F
were common across portions of the southern and central plains,
and the coastal plains of the Southeast. As of Aug. 3, 256 heat-related
deaths had been reported nationwide. Even so, heat-related deaths
tend to be lower than in past years as many cities and states
have instituted special programs to mitigate the effects of heat
It was a long and very busy fire season across many parts of
the United States, including Alaska, even in areas not normally
prone to wildfires. Florida experienced major wildfires in the
spring that darkened the skies over Miami at mid-day. Even the
mid-Atlantic states saw a large number of wildfires in 1999.
Out west, the Great Basin and in particular northern Nevada faced
the worst fire season in 35 years as wildfires consumed more
than 1.4 million acres in less than one week in August. Nevada
alone accounted for nearly one-third of the 5.6 million acres
consumed by wildfires across all 50 states this year. In California,
several major forest fires that started in late summer burned
for more than two months.
Hot dry conditions over the
south central states kept fire fighters busy putting out grass
and brush fires almost on a daily basis during the summer and
fall. Lack of precipitation in the Ohio Valley produced wildfires
even across farmland as crops withered and died, becoming susceptible
to wildfires themselves. The fire season also continued to be
active well into November as wildfires burned from eastern Oklahoma
to Kentucky. Large prairie fires, including the largest wildfire
in Nebraska history, consumed tens of thousands of acres across
the central and northern plains.
Even as 1999 was coming to
a close, hot, dry Santa Ana winds produced dangerous wildfires
in southern California during December.
Aug. 22, Hurricane Bret, $34 million in damage in Texas
During the afternoon of Aug. 2, Hurricane Bret made landfall
on Padre Island in sparsely populated Kenedy County (population
under 500 people, about 60,000 cattle!), about half-way between
Brownsville and Corpus Christi. Bret was only the 16th category
4 storm to ever hit the United States and the fourth category
4 storm to ever hit the Texas coast. The last category 4 storm
to hit the Texas coast was Hurricane Carla, which passed over
the Matagorda/Port O'Conner region in September 1961. Bret drifted
westward, dumping copious rainfall over south Texas, with more
than 20 inches estimated by NEXRAD radar over a portion of Kenedy
County. The heavy rains were blamed for a vehicle crash that
took the lives of four people. Numerous tornadoes were reported
and extensive wind damage was noted, especially to the immediate
north of landfall. This region had been spared a land-falling
hurricane in recent years, as the last hurricane to hit the Texas
coast was Jerry in October 1989.
Sept. 1-6, Hurricane Dennis,
North Carolina, 7 dead
After lashing the coast of North Carolina as a hurricane, Dennis
meandered about 90 to 100 miles off the coast as a tropical storm
before reintensifying and turning back on the Outer Banks. The
storm made landfall the second time with 70 mph winds into north-central
North Carolina before dissipating through south-central Virginia
on Sept. 6. Dennis' remnants dropped copious amounts of rain
through the middle Atlantic States and the Northeast, resulting
in significant small stream and urban flooding but only limited
river flooding due to pre-existing dry conditions. Seven deaths
were attributed to the storm.
Sept. 13-17 Hurricane Floyd,
Florida, North Carolina, 68 dead, $5.5 billion in damage
One of the most accurately predicted and yet most destructive
U.S. hurricanes of the 20th century, Floyd's heavy rains caused
massive inland flooding and prompted the nation's largest peacetime
evacuation with about 2.6 million people fleeing their homes.
Rainfall amounts averaged 10 to 20 inches in a 50-75 mile swath
through North Carolina, Virginia and on through New Jersey, New
York and New England, with some areas receiving rainfall amounts
in two days that exceeded the 100-year, 10-day total. Flood waters
lingered in some areas for weeks, causing massive disruptions
of people's lives. Floyd damages may surpass the $6 billion caused
by Hurricane Fran in 1996 and, with at least 75 fatalities, was
the deadliest U.S. tropical cyclone since Agnes in 1972.
Oct. 14-17 Hurricane Irene, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Florida, 5-15 dead
Hurricane Irene brought heavy rains from the Florida Keys northward
to central Virginia in the United States. Some places in eastern
North Carolina and eastern Virginia received more than 12 inches
of additional rain, adding to the flooding problems. News sources
reported that agricultural losses alone in Miami-Dade County,
Fla., due to flooding associated with hurricane Irene, could
reach as much as $100 million. Media have reported that between
five and 15 deaths occurred in Florida and North Carolina.
Nov. 13-22 Hurricane Lenny,
1 dead, $330 million in damage
Hurricane Lenny, a very unusual west-to-east moving low-latitude
hurricane, battered portions of the Caribbean around mid-month.
Hurricane Lenny, as of Nov. 17, was a strong Category 4 Saffir-Simpson
storm with winds of 150 mph sustained and an estimated central
pressure reading of 929 mb. Lenny was the second strongest storm
of the 20th century to hit the Virgin Islands, second only to
Hurricane David in 1979 (924 mb and 150 mph sustained winds)
and just a bit stronger than the San Felipe storm of 1928 (929
mb and 140 mph sustained winds). Hurricane Lenny was responsible
for a total of 13 deaths on several Carribbean islands, but spared
the U.S. Virgin Islands from a direct hit. The U.S. Coast Guard
rescued a St. Maarten man who survived two days on a life raft,
with 100 mph winds and 30-foot seas. Fortunately, the storm weakened
prior to making a direct hit on any of the more populated islands,
or the damages would have been much worse.