Extreme Weather Events Aren't New... But They Are Getting Worse
If you look at a list of average temperatures for various areas across the country, they seem pretty... well, average.
Same with average amounts of rainfall and snowfall. And ditto with typical wind speeds. The "average" day everywhere in the U.S. is certainly tolerable.
But it's not the average days we need to be concerned about. It's the extreme days. They don't come every week or every month, but usually arrive several times each year. And the problems they cause have negative impacts on our lives. For days, weeks and even months.
For decades, we've seen time and time again how extreme weather shakes our way of life. Today, I'd like to share some of the worst weather experiences America has ever had.
Cold, Heat, Rain and Wind
To start, let's go back to early 1971. The temperature plummeted to a bone-chilling 80 degrees below zero in Prospect Creek, Alaska. Seventeen years earlier, the temperature in Rogers Pass, Montana dropped to minus 70.
Extreme heat is just as big of a problem. In 1913, Death Valley, California recorded a temp of 134. Phoenix broke a record for highest temperature in a large U.S. city in 1994 – 128 degrees.
Alvin, Texas is the "winner" for most rain in a 24-hour period. They got 43 inches on July 25, 1979. Burnsville, West Virginia received 13.8 inches of rain in one hour in 1943. Flooding killed 23 people.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew produced wind speeds of 177 miles per hour. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 topped that at 185 mph.
Thousands Dead or Displaced
The Tri-State tornado in 1925 reached a width of almost a mile. It killed nearly 700 people, injured 2,000 and destroyed 15,000 homes.
In 1900, the Galveston, Texas hurricane produced a huge storm surge that cost some 8,000 people their lives.
The eight-year Dust Bowl drought in the 1930s drove millions of Midwesterners from their homes.
The Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889 killed more than 2,200 people following the collapse of a dam.
Newest States Are Baking
Violent weather picked up during the just-ended decade. Not only in the number of extreme weather events. But also in their intensity.
In 2019, our 49th and 50th states experienced extreme heat. The average temperature for the year in Alaska was warmer than it's been in recorded history.
Average wintertime temperatures in Alaska are now 5 degrees warmer than 50 years ago. And much of the ice around the state is disappearing.
In 2019, Honolulu had 29 days between June and August with record high temps. Over a 20-day stretch, Lihue broke high temperature records every day.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Midwest reeled from a polar vortex in 2019. It was 23 degrees below zero in Chicago, with 50 below wind chills.
Michael and the Camp Fire
The big weather stories in 2018 were Hurricane Michael and California's Camp Fire. Both caused dozens of deaths.
Michael was the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland since Andrew in 1992. It was blamed for 49 deaths and more than $5.5 billion in damages.
Winds reached 160 mph in Florida, bringing water up to 20 feet above high-tide levels.
The Camp Fire was the deadliest wildfire in California history. It killed 85 people and destroyed 14,000 homes. Flames scorched more than 150,000 acres of land.
Hurricanes Ravage Puerto Rico
Other extreme weather-related events last decade include Hurricanes Harvey and Maria in 2017.
Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane and broke the U.S. rainfall record for a tropical storm. In the town of Nederland, 60-plus inches of rain were recorded.
Category 5 Maria crushed Puerto Rico. It caused some 3,000 deaths and decimated the U.S. territory's electrical grid.
Making a nearly hopeless situation worse was that island residents were already repairing the damage Hurricane Irma caused two weeks earlier.
Never Seems to End
The previous year, Hurricane Matthew produced massive flooding in the Carolinas. Hurricane Florence compounded the problem in 2018.
Within a three-week span in 2015, Boston, Massachusetts experienced four snowstorms with at least one foot of snow each.
Two years earlier, Oklahoma had 63 tornadoes in May. The first was three-quarters of a mile wide, wiping out sections of Moore.
The year 2012 saw Hurricane Sandy cause massive devastation. More than 100 people died and $65 billion in damages resulted.
A tornado in 2011 crushed Joplin, Missouri. Other tornadoes in the outbreak wiped several Alabama communities off the map.
Time to Get Prepared
Anyone who thinks extreme weather events in the U.S. have run their course isn't playing with a full deck.
These events are on the increase. And they're going to continue wreaking havoc with our food supply and water safety. Plus our air quality and the electrical grid.
It's up to us to be aware and get prepared. We owe it to ourselves and our families to get ready for the next weather emergency.
It could be right around the corner.