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1999 Hurricane SeasonDecember 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.

The 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, La Niña-induced 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 in January
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.

Persistent Drought
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 states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and West Virginia—experienced 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 waves.

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.

Active Hurricane Season
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.