Heat Wave in the USA

It’s hot in the United States! This picture from the NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory shows the temperature at 5 pm Eastern Time on the 12th of July:

Half the population is suffering under ‘heat advisories’. These kick in when the heat index—a measure of perceived temperature that takes humidity into account—surpasses 105°F (about 40 °C), or when the nighttime low exceeds 80°F (about 27 °C) for two consecutive nights.

Here’s what the Capital Weather Gang has to say:

East of the continental divide, it’s difficult to escape today’s searing heat. NOAA reported that as of 1 p.m., heat advisories or excessive heat warnings affected 150 million Americans in 23 states. Washington, D.C. had been under a heat advisory earlier today, but it was canceled when it became clear temperatures would fall just below advisory criteria.

Almost all of the south central and southeast states have seen heat indices exceed 105 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Some sample readings at 3 p.m.: Little Rock 109, St. Louis 109, Raleigh 105, Memphis 111, Charleston 108.

In recent days, the searing heat has set scores of new record high temperatures across the eastern two thirds of the country. Yesterday alone, 41 record highs were set including Ft. Smith, Ar. (107), Indianapolis, In. (96), Louisville, Ky. (97), Watertown, Ny. (90), Altoona, Pa. (94), and Charleston, WV (95).

Record high minimum temperatures have been more even pervasive, offering little nighttime relief from the oppressive afternoon heat. On Monday, 132 record high lows were set.

In Louisville, Kentucky this morning, the low dropped to a mere 84 degrees. Meteorologist Eric Fisher at The Weather Channel tweeted: “That. Is. Filthy. Heat Index was still above 100 at 5am.”

Some of the most remarkable heat occurred on in central Plains on July 9 and 10. Oklahoma City reached 110 degrees on the 9th, tying its all-time high for the month. Wichita, Kansas rose to 111 degrees on the 10th, its hottest temperature in 30 years. See CapitalClimate for more on the records which extended into Arkansas and Missouri.

In both Oklahoma City (13 days) and Dallas (10 days), the mercury has reached 100 or better for at least ten straight days. Hot weather is predicted to persist there through the weekend, at least.

Across the country during the month of July, record highs have outnumbered record lows 349 to 68 (or more than 5:1).

Could any of this be related to, umm, global warming? Joe Romm has a blistering critique of the American media’s failure to mention this possibility:

• Joe Romm, After Story on Monster Heat Wave, NBC Asks “What Explains This?” The Answer: “We’re Stuck in a Summer Pattern”!, Climate Progress, 13 July 2011.

Inference is a tricky business. It’s easy to spot patterns where they don’t exist, especially when the patterns are as subtle as an increase in extreme weather events, also known as ‘global weirding’. If there’s a flood, or a drought, we can easily explain it this way. The human mind, after all, is programmed to seek out patterns: we can see faces in clouds.

But it’s also easy to fail to recognize patterns where they do exist—especially when acknowledging them would require difficult changes in behavior. “Am I an alcoholic? No, I just got really drunk last night… and, okay, the night before…”

Earlier this spring, Bill McKibben had a sarcastic editorial about this:

• Bill McKibben, A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!, Washington Post, 24 May 2011.

It starts:

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. No, better to focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising river as the water approaches his chest.

Luckily, scientists are busy at work on these questions. For example, these papers on floods came out in February:

• Pardeep Pall, Tolu Aina, Dáithí Stone, Peter Stott, Toru Nozawa, Arno Hilberts, Dag Lohmann, and Myles Allen, Anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution to flood risk in England and Wales in autumn 2000, Nature 470 (17 February 2011), 382–385. Supplementary information available for free online.

• Seung-Ki Min, Xuebin Zhang, Francis W. Zwiers and Gabriele C. Hegerl, Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes, Nature 470 (17 February 2011), 378-381.

I believe that someday we will understand whether and how extreme weather events are linked to global warming—if not individually, at least statistically. Whether we’ll understand it soon enough for it to make much difference—I’m less sure about that.

Luckily, I’m back in Singapore now, so I don’t personally have to worry about the heat wave in the USA. No heat advisory here! The weather is quite normal, with the heat index a nice cool 100 °F (or 38 °C).

21 Responses to Heat Wave in the USA

  1. streamfortyseven says:

    I remember growing up in Kansas about 40 years ago when it was normal to have three-week-long stretches of lows at 3am of 90F or over, and the highs were such that cars’ tires sank into the asphalt, leaving tread marks, and if you put too much air in your bike tires, they’d blow right off of the rims if left out in the sun.

    • John Baez says:

      Needless to say, one needs to do statistics to tell if it’s really getting warmer or not. Here’s some non-statistical information about heat in Kansas:

      • Roxana Hegeman, Hutchinson nation’s hot spot at 112 amid Kansas heat wave, The Associated Press, 11 July 2011.

      A record-setting heat wave smothering residents, crops and animals alike is expected to last for at least the next seven days in parts of the state, authorities said Monday.

      Hutchinson checked in as the hottest spot in the nation Sunday after temperatures hit 112 degrees and Wichita hit 111, National Weather Service meteorologist Chance Hayes said Monday. Records show temperatures of 111 have occurred only 10 times in Wichita since 1888.

      Wichita already this year has recorded 18 days with temperatures over 100 degrees. Typically the state annually averages about 10 days of triple-digit temperatures. The record of 50 days was set in 1936.

      For the non-Americans, 112 °F is 44.4444… °C.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        I’ve read in the news that the insurance company for insurance companies, the reinsurance company Münchner Rück, has had the worst year of its entire history. It would be necessary to try to find out which part of their problem is due to an increase of insurable assets in the world, and which part is due to an increase of natural disasters. I don’t know. But I trust their numbers more than I trust the numbers of any NGO or government agency. If they say they are losing money on a big scale, they really do, that’s for sure.

        • David Corfield says:

          It would be very difficult to separate out the effect you wanted. You’d need to exclude non-climatic natural disasters, like the Japanese Earthquake, and non-climatic human disasters, like the Gulf spill. And then you’d need to control for schemes which inflate insurance costs. In the UK, we have companies which specialise in acquiring payment of thousands of pounds for anyone involved in a road accident, however minor the impact. Not hard to believe this could happen in property claims.

          Even with climatic disasters like flooding, you’d have to know if changes in practice made them worse, like building in flood plains.

        • Munich Re should be able to sort out these things. A decent insurance company depends on this. From a press release Sept. 2010:

          Munich Re’s natural catastrophe database, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events.

      • John Baez says:

        In our earlier discussion about Adapting to a Hotter Earth, I quoted Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers. (Are they the same as Münchner Rück?)

        In September 2010, they wrote:

        Floods in central Europe, wildfires in Russia, widespread flooding in Pakistan. The number and scale of weather-related natural catastrophe losses in the first nine months of 2010 was exceptionally high…. Munich Re emphasises the probability of a link between the increasing number of weather extremes and climate change.

        Globally, 2010 has been the warmest year since records began over 130 years ago, the ten warmest during that period all falling within the last 12 years. The warmer atmosphere and higher sea temperatures are having significant effects. Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre: “It’s as if the weather machine had changed up a gear. Unless binding carbon reduction targets stay on the agenda, future generations will bear the consequences.”

        Munich Re recorded a total of 725 weather-related natural hazard events with significant losses from January to September 2010, the second-highest figure recorded for the first nine months of the year since 1980. Some 21,000 people lost their lives, 1,760 in Pakistan alone, up to one-fifth of which was flooded for several weeks. Overall losses due to weather-related natural catastrophes from January to September came to more than US$ 65bn and insured losses to US$ 18bn. Despite producing 13 named storms, the hurricane season has been relatively benign to date, the hurricanes having pursued favourable courses.

        Munich Re’s natural catastrophe database, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes.

        The rise in natural catastrophe losses is primarily due to socio-economic factors. In many countries, populations are rising, and more and more people moving into exposed areas. At the same time, greater prosperity is leading to higher property values. Nevertheless, it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.

        There are at present insufficient data on many weather risks and regions to permit statistically backed assertions regarding the link with climate change. However, there is evidence that, as a result of warming, events associated with severe windstorms, such as thunderstorms, hail and cloudbursts, have become more frequent in parts of the USA, southwest Germany and other regions. The number of very severe tropical cyclones is also increasing. One direct result of warming is an increase in heatwaves such as that experienced in Russia this summer. There are also indications of a higher incidence of atmospheric conditions causing air mass formation on the north side of the Alps and low-lying mountain ranges, a phenomenon which can result in floods. Heavy rain and flash floods are affecting not only people living close to rivers but also those who live well away from traditionally flood-prone areas. Although climate change can no longer be halted, even with the help of very ambitious schemes, it can still be curbed.

        I also mentioned that Dr. Peter Hoeppe, head of the Geo Risks Research Department at Munich Re, wrote:

        For me the most convincing piece of evidence that global warming has been contributing already to more and more intense weather related natural catastrophes is the fact that while we find a steep increase in the number of loss relevant weather events (about tripling in the last 30 years) we only find a slight increase in geophysical (earthquake, volcano, tsunami) events, which should not be affected by global warming. If the whole trend we find in weather related disaster should be caused by reporting bias, or socio-demographic or economic developments we would expect to find it similarly for the geophysical events.

        In response to this, srp argued that:

        This argument is incorrect. Economic development has led to people moving to desirable areas, like coastlines, not to volcanos or earthquake zones.

        Surely someone has tried to sort this out? It’s important!

        • David Corfield says:

          How do you count these events? Does the recent Japanese earthquake count as 1? Is a large aftershock part of the same event? Is a single tornado an event or is it part of a storm? How many events make up recent Mississippi flooding?

          I still think you’d be better off analysing metereological data than insurance data. When people have to find new building plots in crowded places they end up putting up houses in daft places. In the UK we have new housing which insurers won’t touch. There are also subtle shifts in farming practices over the years, loss of marshland, failure to clear ditches, livestock compacting the soil, which can affect local flooding. Then there are shifts in river dredging practices, not always helpful flood ‘defences’, etc. If you want to know about climate change, why not use meteorological instruments?

  2. David Corfield says:

    Yes, attributing causes is tricky. Seeing that blocking events seem to be involved in so many floods, droughts, heatwaves and freezes, e.g., this account of the Russian heatwave, maybe a global measure of ‘blockedness’ would be useful.

    • John Baez says:

      Interesting! Maybe this ‘blocking’ effect is what the meteorologist ridiculed by Joe Romm was referring to:

      Ann Curry: Chris, with 677 tornadoes in April alone, this is the deadliest year since 1936, not to mention these floods and also this heat wave. So what explains this, Chris?

      Chris Warren: Well, Ann, during the spring time we were stuck in a very active spring pattern. Now that it’s summer, we’re stuck in a very active and persistent summer pattern.

      To a naive eye, this sounds a bit like the old explanation of why opium puts people to sleep: because it has a ‘dormitive power’. But maybe there’s something to it… which might be explained by a general theory of ‘blocking’.

      (By the way, note that the year 1936 has come up twice in these comments.)

    • Up to now, blocking events look entirely natural and not linked to CO2 rise. More on the Russian heat wave of 2010 from NOAA:

      The natural process of atmospheric blocking, and the climate impacts induced by such blocking, are the principal cause for this heat wave. It is not known whether, or to what exent, greenhouse gas emissions may affect the frequency or intensity of blocking during summer. It is important to note that observations reveal no trend in a daily frequency of July blocking over the period since 1948, nor is there an appreciable trend in the absolute values of upper tropospheric summertime heights over western Russia for the period since 1900.

      and New Scientist says

      Computer models of climate are not detailed enough at present to reproduce blocking events,

      — But climate models also fail at predicting the rapid decay of Arctic sea ice. That will obviously have a great influence on weather patterns (cold surface gone, more warmth absorbed) – perhaps also on blocking events. We need to wait and see the statistics coming in over the years.

      That current global warming (soon heating) has an influence on extreme weather is almost a no-brainer. When folks wonder I use to tell them it’s just steam engine physics and elementary statistics: Warmer air holds more moisture, transporting more of it away from some places (drought, e.g. Russian soil 2010) and/or dumping more of it in other places (flood, e.g. Pakistan 2010). AFAIK it’s currently just 4% more, but there’s the miracles of the Gaussian distribtion: Tweak its parameters a little bit and you get large changes at the extreme ends – voila, here come the black swans (This page has a nice image.)

  3. Sili says:

    Just out of curiosity, how does the temperature anomaly correlate with disbelief in the scientific consensus?

    • John Baez says:

      I don’t know, but there’s some correlation with the prevalence of AIDS. Here’s the heat map:

      and here’s a newly released interactive map showing the number of people living with a diagnosis of AIDS in 2008:

      Correlation does not imply causation.

      • Blake Stacey says:

        The AIDS map looks an awful lot like a population density map.

        • John Baez says:

          You scared me for a second there, since I read incoming comments in my email, so I saw yours without that map in front of me.

          Just in case anyone else is similarly scared: the AIDS map doesn’t show AIDS cases per square kilometer (which would be idiotic, and obviously correlated with population density), but the fraction of people who have AIDS. So, Blake is suggesting that the chance of a person having AIDS is positively correlated to the population density… which makes some sense, since you have to actually meet someone to get AIDS.

          It would be very interesting to see how much of the variations in AIDS infection can be explained by this simple fact. Unsurprisingly, the conclusions that made the news are more politically charged:

          A reort conducted by USA Today found that nearly all U.S. counties that have high rates of HIV/AIDS cases are south of the Mason-Dixon line. The newspaper used data that was collected by Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health that produced AIDSVu, the first effort to use state-of-the-art methods to map HIV infection rates by county.

          Reporters Steve Sternberg and Jack Gillum wrote that the epidemic, while still prevalent in big cities on the East and West coasts, is “becoming heavily entrenched among Black men and women in pockets of poverty in 11 Southern states.”

          Harold Henderson, an HIV expert at the University of Mississippi, says Southern states suffer from a host of health issues, including HIV, for reasons that extend from poverty to a lack of education and fragile families. He added that many children in the South lack sufficient sex education.

          “The age when kids first become sexually active is pretty young in the Deep South,” he says. “That has a lot to do with the fact parents don’t do a good job of [educating their kids about sex]. And if you happen to live in a broken home, with drug use and poverty involved, you may not be getting the parental supervision you need.”

          The new analysis identified 175 counties that rank among the top 20 percent for both HIV and poverty, all but six in the South. Two of the six are the boroughs of Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York City. Seven states — Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia — did not share their county-level data.

          By the way, for non-English speakers out there: I would never say ‘conduct a report’. You can conduct a study and then write a report. (Sorry, I’m an editor’s son.)

  4. […] Rainbow frog! Robotic mouth! Heat wave*! […]

  5. Ben says:

    I find that data on climate change is hard to come by and it seems different organizations have different numbers. For instance, weather.gov, which is the national weather service, states that between 1999 and 2003 only 1029 people succumbed to heat related deaths. This is in contrast to CDC.gov, the center for disease control, which lists 3442 deaths, a factor of 3 different. It’s hard to know the motives for under or over reporting.

    • John Baez says:

      Interesting. I know a bit more about how to find data on temperature, rainfall etc. than how to find data on deaths due to heat.

      I imagine there’s quite a bit of room for different definitions of ‘heat related deaths’. In a different direction, I’ve heard that heavy snowfalls in the US cause a lot of heart attacks among people shovelling their driveways. If you die that way, is it a ‘cold-related death’? Similarly, deaths in the US due to traffic accidents after rainstorms greatly exceed deaths more directly caused by hurricanes and tornadoes.

  6. John Baez says:

    The heat wave has gotten worse from 13 July to 21 July: see the animated movie from NOAA, and it’s not predicted to let up very soon:

    This picture is from Weather Underground. Note that this graphic shows the predicted ‘heat index’, computed from the temperature and humidity.

  7. John Baez says:

    On Weather Underground, a professor at U. Michigan named Ricky Rood is writing a series of articles about the heat wave in the US and climate change. As David Corfield suggested, “persistence” of high pressure systems is important. And Rood says it’s more likely with high sea surface temperatures.

    Rood writes:

    In the last article I wrote that the extreme events of 2011 were providing us with the opportunity to think about climate and how to cope with a warming world. The U.S. is experiencing an extreme heat event this week (Masters @ WU). This heat wave is the consequence of a strong, stationary high pressure system over the central U.S., and it will move to the east over the next few days. Back on July 14th The Capital Weather Gang did a nice write up on the forecast of the heat wave. At the end of this blog are links to my previous blogs on heat waves and human health.

    When thinking about weather, climate, and extreme events an important idea is “persistence.” For example, a heat wave occurs when there are persistent high temperatures. Persistent weather patterns occur when high and low pressure systems get large and stuck; that is, they don’t move. In the Figure below, you need to imagine North America and the United States. There is a high pressure center over the proverbial Heartland. With blue arrows I have drawn the flow of air around the high pressure system, and in this case moist air. There is moisture coming from the Gulf of Mexico and, in fact on the date when this was drawn, from the Pacific. This is common in the summer to see both the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific as sources of continental moisture.

    Figure 1: Schematic of a high pressure system over the central United States in July. While generic, this is drawn to represent some of the specifics of 2011. The green-shaded area is where there have been floods in 2011. The brown-shaded area represents sustained drought in the southern part of the nation.


    At the center of this high pressure system there is a suppression of rain, because the air is moving downward. This sets up a situation where the surface heats from the Sun’s energy. There is not much mixing and cooling, because of the suppression of the upward motion that produces rain. Hence, if this high pressure system gets stuck, then there is persistent heat. This is a classic summer heat wave.

    Let’s think about it some more. There is lot of moisture being drawn around the edge of the high pressure system, and this moisture contributes to the discomfort of people. People – just a short aside about people: if we think about heat and health, then we are concerned about people’s ability to cool themselves. It is more difficult to cool people when it is humid because sweat does not evaporate. Suppose that in addition to this moisture, there is a region where the ground is soaked with water from flooding. Then on top of already moist air coming from the Gulf, there is local evaporation into the air being warmed by the Sun. If on the interior of the high, where the rain is suppressed, there is hot, wet air, then it becomes dangerous heat.

    It’s not easy to derive a number that describes dangerous heat. But in much of the eastern U.S. a number that somehow combines temperature and humidity is useful. Meteorologists often use the heat index. It’s the summer time version of “it’s 98 degrees, but it feels like 105.” For moist climates, the heat index is one version of the “it feels like” temperature. Jeff Masters tells me that in Newton, Iowa yesterday, July 17, 2011, the heat index was 126 degrees F. (see here, and 131 F in Knoxville, Iowa on July 18)

    Another measure of heat and humidity is the dew point; that is, the temperature at which dew forms, and effectively limits the nighttime low. The dew points in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are currently very high and setting records. Here is a map of dew point for July 19, 2011.

    Figure 2: Exceptionally high dew points centered on Iowa.


    Now if I were a public health official, and I was trying to understand how a warming planet might impact my life, then here is how I would think about it. First, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific are going to be warmer, and hence, there will be more humid air. This will mean, with regard to human health for the central U.S., heat waves will become more dangerous, without necessarily becoming hotter. It is also reasonable to expect heat waves will become more frequent and last longer, because those persistent, stuck high pressure systems are, in part, forced by the higher sea surface temperatures. If I am a public health official here is my algorithm – heat waves are already important to my life, and they are likely to get more dangerous, more frequent, and of longer duration. But by how much? Do I need to know by how much before I decide on a plan for action?

    If I think about the air being more humid, then I might expect to see trends in the heat index. I might expect to see trends in dew points, and trends in the nighttime minimum temperatures getting higher. (That’s where a greenhouse effect really matters.) I worry about persistent heat, warm nights, and the inability of people and buildings to cool themselves. I worry about their being dangerous heat in places where people and emergency rooms are not used to dangerous heat – not acclimated to heat – not looking for heat-related illness.

    Let’s go back to the figure. Rain is suppressed in the middle of the high pressure system, but around the edge of the high pressure system it will rain; there will be storms. (see Figure 3 at the end) The air around the edge of high is warm and very wet. Wet air is energetic air, and it is reasonable to expect local severe storms. (See Severe Storm on Lake Michigan) And if the high pressure is persistent, stuck, then days of extreme weather are possible. If this pattern sets up, then there is increased likelihood of flooding. If I am that public health official, then I am alerted to the possibility of more extreme weather and the dangers thereof. But, again, can the increase of extreme weather be quantified? Do I need to quantify it before I decide on a plan of action?

    Still with the figure – what about that region of extended drought and the heat from the high pressure system? Dehydration becomes a more important issue. As a public health official, I start to see the relation of the heat event to other aspects of the weather, the climate. I see the relation to drought. I see the flood, and it’s relation to the winter snow pack and spring rains.

    So what I have presented here is to look at the local mechanisms of the weather – what are the basic underlying physics responsible for hot and cold, wet and dry – for moist air? If I stick to the basic physics, and let the climate model frame the more complex regional and global picture, what can I say about the future? Do I have to have a formal prediction to take action? Here in 2011, I see drought and flood and hot weather and warm oceans that interact together to make a period of sustained, dangerous heat. It does not have to “set a record” to convey the reality of the warming earth. It tells me the type of event that is likely to come more often, of longer duration, and of, perhaps, of greater intensity. If I am a public health planner, then I can know this with some certainty. The question becomes, how do I use that information in my planning?

    Figure 3: Radar loop showing precipitation around the edge of the large high pressure system in the middle of the continent. July 19, 2011.

    Previous Blogs on Heat Waves

    Hot in Denver: Heat Waves (1)

    Heat Waves (2): Heat and Humans

    Heat Waves (3): Role of Global Warming

  8. John Baez says:

    This article:

    • Jason Samenow, Spring extreme weather events in 2011 in U.S.: historic and record setting, Capital Weather Gang, Washington Post, 16 June 2011.

    lists some of the shocking events that have been happening this year in the USA. This list ends in June, so it does not include the current heat wave:

    Consider all of the following additional examples of extraordinary weather and extraordinary weather records that occurred between March and May:

    Historic tornado numbers and deaths:

    • Most active April on record with 875 tornadoes (average number past decade: 161)
    • Preliminary: Most January-May tornadoes on record (since 1950)
    314 deaths from April 27 tornado outbreak, fourth most on record in a single day
    151 deaths from Joplin, Mo. tornado on May 22, seventh most deaths from a single tornado on record
    • Through June 7, 525 tornado deaths – sixth most on record in a single year (with six months still remaining, although Storm Prediction Center’s Harold Brooks said most tornadodeaths have historically occurred by mid-June)
    • See also: Tornado swarm 2011: Overwhelming areal coverage

    Extreme rainfall:

    Spring average precipitation by state across the U.S. (March-May) (NOAA National Climatic Data Center)

    Wettest March-May on record in 10 states: Washington, Wyoming, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont
    • Wettest March-May on record in the Pacific Northwest region
    300% of normal precipitation in the Ohio Valley
    1300 daily precipitation records broken in April across Midwest and South; 72 locations reported their wettest dayin any April, five of which set all-time daily rain records (for any month)


    Record-setting crests along the Mississippi: Caruthersville (Mo.), Birds Point (Mo.), Vicksburg (Ms.), Natchez (Ms.), Red River Landing (La.); historic levels in many other locations including Memphis
    • 6.8 million acres flooded in Lower Mississippi River Valley
    • 3.5 million acres of farmland flooded within Lower Mississippi River Valley, including one million acres of farmland flooded in Arkansas and 900,000 acres of farmland flooded in Mississippi (10 percent of farmland in state)

    Long-term measured size of Gulf of Mexico hypoxic (or dead) zone with 2011 forecast. Dark gray represents the range of ensemble forecast. (NOAA)
    • Total insured losses from Lower Mississippi flooding approximately 2-4 billion dollars
    • Projected: largest deadzone on record in Gulf of Mexico from polluted water of Mississippi measuring 8500-9421 square miles, roughly the size of New Hampshire
    • Historic water levels at Lake Champlain (straddling NY, Vt., and Canada) including record crest of 102.8 feet at Rouses Point, Vt.

    Extreme Drought and Wildfires

    • Driest March-May on record in Texas
    Extreme to exceptional drought from southeast Arizona through New Mexico, much of Texas, and along the Gulf Coastline to the Florida panhandle.
    • Driest March-May on record in Rio Grande Valley
    • 26-day dry spell in many locations in Texas and New Mexico in April
    • El Paso ended a record streak of 110 days without precipitation on May 24
    • Most wildfire activity on record in April in U.S. (since 200), with almost 1.8 million acres burned
    • From November 2010 to May 2011, Texas ranchers lost $1.2 billion because pastures have not greened; livestock losses are expected to exceed $1 billion due to lack of water and feed for cattle

    Current U.S. drought monitor showing extensive drought conditions from the Southwest across the Gulf Coastline (U.S. Drought Monitor)

    Billion dollar weather disasters (summary):

    Billion dollar weather disasters in 2011 (NOAA National Climatic Data Center)


    The onslaught of extreme weather events this past spring may have no equal in the historic record.. Harold Brooks, researcher at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, speaking at a press briefing Wednesday, said the most similar year to 2011 might be 1927 which had significant tornado activity and flooding. However, historic

    indicators of drought do not suggest similarly dry conditions in the Southwest that year.

    • Shocking? But is it shocking enough as teachable moment for the U.S.?

      Yeah, it’s impressive – but standard business around the planet for some years meanwhile. E.g. the U.S. hasn’t yet had the really ugly forest fires like Russia or Australia. Or super floods like Pakistan or Australia. Hey, Australia seems already have learnt a little?

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