Top Ten Weather Events of 2017
The year of 2017 has come and gone and as we embark on the 2018 voyage, we are bombarded with the uncertainty of weather phenomena to come. Despite the yearly resolution many of us attempt to follow, there are always aspects of our lives that are simply out of our control, like powerful weather events. Here we reflect on some of the most costly, destructive, and immobilizing atmospheric incidents of the past year.
Starting in January, an unusual severe storm setup took place. Although the bulk of tornado activity usually occurs from March to June, in this cold winter month, 79 tornadoes pushed through the Gulf States and South Carolina, ranking the event 3rd for most tornadoes in a single wintertime outbreak.
In early February, a winter storm traveled across the United States. This impacted the Midwest before undergoing a rapid intensification as it began to influence the East Coast. The storm brought blizzard conditions to Boston, one to four inch per hour snowfall rates to New York, and even some rumbles of thunder-snow to New England.
About two weeks later, after almost 5 years of drought, an atmospheric river containing high levels of moisture began to pump precipitation into California from the Pacific Ocean. An abundance of rain fell, causing intense flooding, landslides, and erosion in Northern and central California. Copious amounts of water damaged the Oroville Dam spillway, causing over 180,000 citizens to evacuate as streets filled with water.
The month of March brought a widespread tornado outbreak to the Midwest. Severe thunderstorms produced heavy downpours, hail, strong wind, and a whopping 63 tornadoes ranging in severity from EF0 to EF3. In total, 11 states sustained damages from this system.
Hurricane season ramped up quickly at the end of August as Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, Texas with two feet of water. The storm made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, forcing 39,000 people out of their homes. When all was said and done, Harvey broke records as it was ranked the 2nd most destructive and most expensive storm to hit the United States, behind Hurricane Katrina.
About two weeks later the nation was on edge after Hurricane Irma decimated parts of the Caribbean as a Category 5 hurricane. Pushing its way toward Florida, the storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in the Florida Keys. Irma set a few records of its own, sustaining conditions of a Category 5 hurricane for the longest time on record. Also, this was the first time that two hurricanes, Harvey included, made landfall in the United States as a Category 4 storm in the same season.
Another two weeks later, Hurricane Maria added insult to injury as it crushed Puerto Rico making landfall as, yet again, a category 4 storm. Flash flooding ensued as rain rates reached 5-7” per hour inducing mudslides, and deluging rivers causing them to overflow. Due to the extensive damage, the island’s electrical grid was ruined and people were left without food or clean water.
In the midst of these ferocious hurricanes, a different story unfolded to the north. Due to continuous high temperatures, and an extended period of drought, much of the Dakotas and Montana experienced a “flash drought” where forest fires erupted across the region, demolishing countless wheat crops, and ranch land.
Farther west, due to strong Santa Anna winds and dry weather, the Thomas Fire scorched California beginning in early December. The unrelenting wind allowed for fires to spread quickly, deeming the fire the largest on record having burned over 280,000 acres and displacing over 100,000 residents.
To cap off 2017, early in December as a previously warm weather pattern began to flirt with colder, more seasonable temperatures, a winter storm moved through much of the United States. Snow fell from New Mexico all the way to Maine with over 6 inches of snow being produced in 17 states.
As 2018 commences, we look back at the previous year and pay tribute to the power of the atmosphere. We may not be able to command the weather, but we can always resolve to learn from it. Here’s to a New Year with hopefully less costly weather events!