2013 weather: Wet but not necessarily wild

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While the country had its share of memorable weather events in 2012, a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that it was far from wild. Especially compared to the blockbuster disasters of the previous two years, 2013 weather was notably tame.

In their “State of the Climate” report released Wednesday, NOAA specially listed 10 significant weather and climate events across the continental U.S.:

  1. Snow coverage: The spring snow cover across the contiguous U.S. was the 8th largest in the 47-year period of records. NOAA points that many locations had more snow during the spring than the preceding winter season.
  2. Water Levels of the Great Lakes plummet: Lakes Michigan Huron reached record low levels in early 2013, the lowest reported in 95 years of record keeping. All of the Great Lakes had water levels well-below average.  
  3. Snow storms wallop the Midwest: February 2013 was especially snowy for parts of central U.S. as two winter storms each dumped more than 12 inches of snow across large areas of the region.
  4. The Oklahoma tornado outbreak: An EF-5 tornado that hit Moore, Okla., on May 20 destroyed thousands of homes and killed 24, making it the deadliest tornado of 2013. Less than two weeks later, a 2.6-mile wide, EF-3 tornado hit near El Reno, Okla., killing eight and making history as the widest tornado on record.
  5. From fire to flooding, Colorado’s extremes: In June, more than 500 homes were destroyed in the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., making history as the most destructive wildfire in the state. Just three months later, record-breaking rainfall and flooding impacted the Front Range.
  6. Too wet for some: Above-average precipitation was widespread across the Southeast, Midwest and Northern Plains. North Dakota and Michigan reported their wettest year in the state’s history.
  7. Too dry for others: California reported its driest year on record, averaging just 7.37 inches of rain for the year – 33 percent of average. The Rim Fire burned more than 255,000 acres near Yosemite, the third largest fire on record in the state.
  8. Drought still an issue: The nation’s drought footprint finally improved – from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, the percent area of the contiguous U.S. in drought drank from 61.1 percent to 31 percent. However, drought remains an issue in the Far West and parts of the Southwest.
  9. What hurricane season? Despite expectations of a busy hurricane season, the North Atlantic Basin had 13 named storms, two hurricanes and no major hurricanes. While the number of named storms was above-average, the number of hurricanes was below-average.
  10. Late-season tornadoes in the Midwest: The Nov. 17 tornado outbreak spawned in excess of 70 tornadoes across the Midwest. Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky were hardest hit. Seven were killed in the outbreak.

Overall, the year was warmer – but wetter – than average for much of the Lower 48 and had seven disasters exceed $1 billion in damages. Click here to see a summary of 2013’s disasters.

The Weather Channel reports weather in 2013 appears mild in comparison to 2011’s deadly torrent of tornadoes and 2012’s devastating Hurricane Sandy, nation-wide drought and record-setting heat.

However, in 2013, no hurricanes made landfall in the U.S., and the long-standing drought finally abated across much of the nation. And, as the Weather channel notes, the daily record temperatures outnumbered daily record highs for the first time in 20 years.

But as Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, said in an email conversation with The Weather Channel, the number of extreme weather events in 2013 may have been smaller, but they did leave their mark.

“I think relative to 2011 and 2012, (2013 was) perhaps more quiet, but is this a statement in itself about our calibration to the new normal,” Shepherd said. “I am not sure, but after a child runs a fever of 105, does a fever of 103 cause a sigh of relief? I can't help but think along these lines when I hear the comparisons to 2011 (and) 2012.”

Read, “Compared To 2 Previous Years, 2013 Was A Paper Tiger.”


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