Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.
By: weatherhistorian, 9:14 PM GMT on December 29, 2011
South Pole Records Warmest Temperature on Record
On Christmas Day, December 25th, the temperature at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site soared to an all-time record high of 9.9°F (-12.3°C) at 3:50 p.m. local time, eclipsing the former record of 7.5°F (-13.6°C) set on December 27, 1978. The low temperature on December 25th was a mild (relatively!) 0°F (-17.8°C). Records at the site began in January 1957. Its elevation is 9,301 feet (2,835 meters).
This infrared satellite animation shows how a tongue of relatively warm air intruded inland over the Antarctic continent to the South Pole (identified by the red square). Temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit are displayed for the time period of the animation (from December 24th through December 25th). Two other AWS sites near the South Pole (100 kilometers to the north—along the prime meridian-and east of the pole) also broke their all-time heat records with Nico and Henry AWS sites reporting 17.2°F (-8.2°C) and 16.0°F (-8.9°C) respectively.
The normal high temperature for December at the South Pole is -15.7°F (-26.5°C).
Table of annual average and extreme temperatures for the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site. Table graphic from Wikipedia.
The coldest temperature on record for the South Pole site is -117.0°F (-82.8°C) set on June 23, 1982. The pole is one of the driest places on earth with an estimated total annual precipitation of just .20” (4.5mm) although blowing snow contributes to about an 8-inch snow accumulation each year.
An old, but beautiful, photograph of the South Pole station. The dome pictured here was dismantled in 2010. Photo by Galen Rowell. Galen was one of the greatest nature photographers ever (and a dear friend of mine), he died in a plane crash, along with his wife Barbara, in Bishop, California in 2002. His book 'Poles Apart: Parallel Visions of the Arctic and Antarctic' (Univ. of California Press, 1995) is a must view for those interested in the 'top and bottom' of our planet. This photo was taken back in the early 1990s.
The month of December has been average temperature-wise so far, in spite of the recent record warmth. This is because the first half of the month was colder than the normal -18°F (-27.8°C) daily mean. The low for the month was -29°F (-33.9°C) on December 10th and 13th.
Graphics for temperature and wind at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole site during this month of December. From wunderground.com (temperatures based on METARS so they may not illustrate the actual daily minimums and maximums).
Antarctica’s all-time continental temperature extremes range from a low (world record) of -128.6°F (-89.2°C) at the Russian Vostok Station on July 21, 1983, to 59.0°F (15.0°C) at Vanda Station on January 5, 1974. Warmer temperatures have been measured on islands that are technically part of Antarctica but, of course, not part of the mainland. The warmest being 67.6°F (19.8°C) at the United Kingdom base on Signy Island, South Orkney, on January 30, 1982.
REF: See for more details on the event.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 8:48 AM GMT on December 30, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 9:14 PM GMT on December 18, 2011
Massive Storm Strikes Western Europe
One of the most intense storms in recent years carved a path across Western Europe December 15-17th. Named winter-storm ‘Joachim’ (intense extra-tropical storms are named like hurricanes in Europe) the center of the storm passed between France and the United Kingdom and then across the Low Countries and into Northwestern Germany and on to Poland. A peak wind gust of 211 kph (131 mph) was measured at Puy de Dome in Auvergne, France.
Winter Storm Joachim
The central pressure of Joachim fell as low as 963.8 mb (28.46”) in Braunschweig in western Germany (and 964 mb at Hannover), perhaps a national record for low pressure. In Germany sustained winds of 87 mph were measured at Wendelstein at 8 pm local time on December 16th.
Satellite image with isobaric overlay for 12z on December 16th at which point winter storm Joachim was at its peak strength. Image from German Met. Department.
Widespread wind damage in northern France brought down power lines resulting in 400,000 homes losing electricity. A large Maltese cargo ship, the TK Bremen, was washed ashore by 25-foot English Channel seas landing on the coast of Brittany. The crew was safe but some 200 tons of fuel oil leaked from the vessel.
The 109-meter long cargo ship TK Bremen ashore on the French coast of Brittany. Photographer not identified/ Reuters.
In Switzerland wind gusts up to 175 kph (105 mph) were measured at Boenspitzen, a mountaintop site in the northeast of the country. However, high winds effected low elevations as well.
Maximum wind gusts in kph reported from Switzerland during the storm on December 16th. The figures are color-coded according to wind strength. Map from Meteo Swiss.
Welcome snowfall blanketed most of the Alpine resorts with as much as 1.5 meters (60”) recorded at Oberwald in the central Swiss Alps.
Blizzard conditions rage in the Swiss village of Bellwald at the height of the storm. Up to five feet of snow fell in the region. Photo from Meteo Swiss web site, photographer not identified.
To the north of the low-pressure center, The United Kingdom reported its first significant snowfall of the season with 10cm (4”) reported from Leadsville in the highlands north of London.
In spite of the intensity of the storm there have, so far, been no reported fatalities and few serious injuries. In fact, overall, the storm has brought much needed precipitation to the region. In western Switzerland and Austria the year-to-date precipitation, prior to Joachim, has been the lowest on record (since 1894). The snowfall has also brought welcome relief to the Alpine ski resorts that have been virtually snowless until now.
Other Historic Winter Storms of Western Europe
The most destructive storms throughout European history have been monstrous extra-tropical cyclones that have blown in from the Atlantic during the winter months (like Joachim this week). These storms are similar to the ones that rake the U.S. Pacific Northwest the same time of year. However, the latitude of northwestern Europe is closer to that of the Canadian Pacific than the U.S. Pacific, and hence the low-pressure systems striking Europe tend to be more intense than those experienced in the U.S. Pacific states. The lowest pressure reading of 962 mb (28.40”) recorded along the Washington coast can hardly compare to Britain’s lowest reading of 925.6 mb (27.33”).
Sea flooding, especially in the aptly named Low Countries of Holland and Belgium, has long been the most devastating aspect of these storms. In 1228 some sources estimate 100,000 people drowned (a figure difficult to believe!) in Holland’s Friesland, when a storm surge flooded a large portion of the country. As recently as January 1953, a storm surge once again broke through the dikes of Holland drowning 1,800. Another 307 lives were lost in England to coastal flooding. The winds during this great storm reached 125 mph in the Orkney Islands. Winds up to 175 mph in the North Sea sank several cargo ships, and tragically, the ferry Princess Victoria went down with 132 passengers and crew in the Irish Sea.
Following the 1953 storm, Holland undertook a massive engineering project to protect its vast miles of reclaimed land behind a complex series of dikes and dams.
Great Britain’s most infamous cyclone occurred on November 26–27, 1703, and has since been known as the Great Storm. It was documented by then journalist Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), who traveled the countryside in a vain attempt to count the number of trees blown down. He forsook this fruitless task upon reaching the number 17,000. Hundreds if not thousands of homes, windmills, barns, and churches were destroyed across southern England. But the worst of the disaster was at sea where hundreds of ships, many from the Royal Navy, were lost along with some 8,000 sailors.
A very similar storm cut a swath across southern Britain on the night of October 15–16, 1987, causing widespread destruction. In London’s parks, thousands of century-old trees were lost. Winds were clocked at 115 mph at Shoreham-by-Sea, and the barometric pressure fell to 956 mb (28.23”) in Bristol.
The windstorm of October 16, 1987 destroyed many historic gardens in southern England, such as this at the landmark Emmetts House and Garden in Kent. Photo by Mike Howarth, National Trust.
An even more devastating storm swept across France and Germany on December 26–28, 1999, with winds up to 135 mph. Orly Airport near Paris recorded a maximum gust of 108 mph. The historic gardens of Versailles were almost completely destroyed and lost 10,000 trees, some of which had stood since the French Revolution. All in all, 140 people were killed in storm-related accidents and avalanches in France, Germany, Belgium, and Austria. This cyclone has since been dubbed Europe’s “Storm of the 20th Century.”
Christopher C. Burt
By: weatherhistorian, 6:00 AM GMT on December 11, 2011
November 2011 Global Weather Extremes Summary
November was a more active month than October so far as global weather extremes are concerned. The biggest story was the great flood of Bangkok in Thailand. Central Europe reported its driest November on record. An unprecedented early-season cold wave engulfed the interior of Alaska while a powerful extra-tropical low pressure wreaked havoc in communities along the Bering Sea coast. And…wild flowers bloomed in the Atacama Desert, driest place in the world.
Below are some of the month’s highlights.
A near-record warm and wet November affected the Ohio Valley and Northeast of the U.S. By the end of the month a new all-time state record for calendar-year precipitation had been set for Ohio with 73.81” at Cheviot near Cincinnati (former record was 72.08” at Mt. Healthy in 1880).
On November 7th an EF-4 tornado ripped through southwest Oklahoma near the town of Tipton. This was the strongest November tornado on record for the state of Oklahoma.
Radar covering southwestern Oklahoma clearly displays the classic hook echoes of two tornadoes north of the Altus area at 3:30 pm CST on November 7th. The Tipton EF-4 twister was in the storm near Hobart on this display. Screen shot from wunderground.com
High winds in the Western U.S. resulted in a wild fire in the Reno, Nevada area on Nov. 18th. About 35 homes were destroyed and one life was lost (from a heart attack). Winds gusting to 141 mph were clocked on Virginia Peak just southeast of the city. High winds also blew across Wyoming with a 102 mph gust recorded 13 miles southwest of Clark, Park County on the 17th. Another extreme wind event affected most of the West beginning on the last day of the month (see my last blog for details).
In Alaska a cold wave gripped the interior region. It was the earliest, coldest two-week period in Fairbanks on record between Nov. 14-28 when the temperature averaged -21°F below average (the minimum was -41° on November 17th). On November 9-10th the first of a series (still on-going!) powerful extra-tropical low-pressure systems cruised across the Bering Sea (pressure bottomed out at 943 mb) producing wind gusts to 89 mph and waves 40-50 feet high.
While Alaska was experiencing its cold wave, Greenland was enjoying a ‘heat wave’. At least in relative terms; between Nov. 8-20 the temperature at Summit (named after the fact that the site rests on the top of the island's glacial dome at some 10,000’) averaged 20-50°F above normal, peaking at a balmy 2°F on November 13th. By the end of the month the temperature had fallen back to normal (actually below normal) with a figure at -70.2°F (-56.8°C) on November 30th, the coldest reading in the northern hemisphere for the month.
SOUTH AMERICA and CENTRAL AMERICA
The most powerful late-season tropical storm on record to form in the Eastern Pacific, Hurricane Kenneth, reached its maximum strength on November 22nd with 145 mph winds. Fortunately, the hurricane drifted harmlessly over open waters well west of the Mexican and Central American coastlines.
GOES-West satellite image of Hurricane Kenneth taken at 11 am on November 22nd when the storm was at its peak with 145 mph winds. NOAA Visualization Lab.
The Atacama Desert of Chile, the driest region on earth, was carpeted in rare wildflowers during November thanks to the wettest winter (June-September) in 20 or so years.
Almost 2.00” of precipitation has ‘deluged’ parts of the Atacama Desert in Chile since last June, a place that normally records just .02” a year and has gone for as long as 16 consecutive years with no precipitation whatsoever. Ironically, the rainfall has been attributed to La Nina conditions in spite of the fact that it is El Nino that normally produces anomalous precipitation in the region; the last time this much rain fell in the Atacama was in 1998 during one of the strongest El Nino episodes on record. Photo from ‘Earthweek: Diary of the Planet.
It was the warmest and driest November on record for many parts of Europe. Almost all of central Europe received no precipitation whatsoever and most Alpine locations reported their lowest snow depths ever for this time of the year. The big exception to this was in southern France and Italy where an intense storm in the Mediterranean Sea produced exceptional rainfall that resulted in extensive flooding in the Genoa, Italy area. All-time point rainfall records for the nation of Italy were set at Vicomorasso when 7.13” (181 mm) of rain fell in just one hour, and 13.27” (337 mm) in three hours, on November 4th.
Rampaging floodwater swept through the streets of Genoa, Italy on November 4th. Up to 20” of rain in 24 hours hit parts of the city. Photo by Tano Pecoraro/AP.
In the United Kingdom, November was the 2nd warmest such on record averaging 2.9°C (5.2°F) above normal. A maximum temperature for the month was measured at Tregarth on November 13th with 66.6°F (19.2°C). The lowest temperature for the month in the U.K. was 21.0°F (-6.1°C) at Redesdale, Northumberland on November 7th, an unusually high minimum. In fact, several sites reported their warmest absolute minimums for the month of November on record (Cork Airport and Belmullet). Heaviest 24-hour rainfall was 3.19” (81 mm) at Benmore on Nov. 17-18, and the highest wind gust recorded was 90 mph on Fair Isle on November 27th.
The warmest temperature measured in the Northern Hemisphere this past November was 109.4°F (43.0°C) at Matam, Senegal on November 10th. And the warmest temperature measured in the Southern Hemisphere and the world during November was 113.2°F (45.1°C) at Vioolsdrif, South Africa on November 19th. A reading of 48.8°C was reported from Skukuza, South Africa on November 11th but the reading is very suspect: the next warmest location in South Africa that day was just 39.0°C.
UPDATE TO OCTOBER SUMMARY: An all-time national heat record was set in October for the nation of Zambia when a reading of 109.0°F (42.8°C) was recorded at Mfuwe breaking the previous national record of 108.1°F (42.3°C) also set at Mfuwe on November 17, 2005.
The biggest weather story in Asia, and the world for that matter, was the incredible flood that engulfed most of the city of Bangkok, Thailand, during the entire month. The waters have now receded but the fallout from this catastrophe will be felt globally for months to come: essential computer hardware parts are in critically short supply (including parts needed to build Apple’s new I-Phone 4S), rice exports have been drastically curtailed bringing great hardship to the nation’s farmers and the country’s GDP growth is expected to fall to just 2.8% this year instead of the 6.5% that was expected. The death toll climbed above 600, making this the 2nd deadliest natural disaster in Thailand’s modern history.
A military helicopter flies on a flood-relief mission over the northern suburbs of Bangkok during the great flood. Photo by Jennifer Villavolos/Navy Visual News Service.
Elsewhere in Asia, flooding in Sri Lanka left at least 12 people dead after a severe storm with gale-force winds affected the Galle and Matara Districts on November 24-25.
A tropical storm in the Arabian Sea, Cyclone Kella, swiped the southern coast of Yemen on November 1-2 resulting in the deaths of at least six people.
A heavy storm dropped up to 39” of snow in parts of northwestern Iran on November 15. The Tabriz area was especially affected.
Heavy snow blankets northwestern Iran with 1-3 foot-accumulations in mid-November. Photo from wunderground.com photo collection submitted anonymously and exact location unknown.
Temperatures averaged close to normal for Australia as a whole during November although Victoria reported its 4th warmest-minimum-temperature average for November on record. Precipitation was much above average (175% of normal nation-wide) and the month was the 8th wettest November on record in Australia.
Maps of temperature and precipitation deciles for Australia during the month of November. Courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The warmest temperature recorded in Australia during November was 111.4°F (44.1°C) at Birdsville Airport, Queensland on Nov. 15th and 29th. The coldest was 25.9°F (-3.4°C) at Liawenee, Tasmania on November 15th. The heaviest calendar-day rainfall was 10.75” (273 mm) at Tully Sugar Mill, Queensland on November 25th.
The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere and the world during November was -77.8°F (-61.0°C) recorded at Vostok on November 1st.
KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data and Italian rainfall records, and Stephen Burt for the U.K. extremes.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 6:32 AM GMT on December 11, 2011
By: weatherhistorian, 5:48 AM GMT on December 04, 2011
Big Winds in the West, Possible Wind Gust Record in California
A near record-strength high pressure system over the Pacific Northwest slid southeast into the Great Basin on Nov. 30-Dec. 2 creating powerful wind gusts across almost all of the Western states causing considerable damage to many areas. Sustained winds of 148 mph with estimated gusts to 175 mph were recorded on Mammoth Mountain in California’s Sierra Nevada. Herein is a short summary of the wind events.
Winds in California
Around midnight November 30-December 1st the pressure peaked at Seattle-Tacoma Airport at 1043.4 mb (30.80”), the highest on record at that site and only 1 mb short of the all-time record for Seattle (30.83” set on December 3, 1921). Meanwhile a developing low pressure over Arizona caused isobars over California, Nevada, and Utah to tighten dramatically.
Surface map (top) and 500 mb map (bottom) for December 1, 2011 at 7 a.m. EST. Note that the high pressure over the Pacific Northwest had a peak pressure of 1047 mb (30.92”) at that hour.
Powerful Santa Ana winds developed over southern California on the evening of November 30th with the highest measured gust at 97 mph on Whitaker Peak (elev. 4120’) in Los Angeles County. Other unconfirmed reports indicate a gust of 167 mph (suspicious) at Henniger Flats at a site 2,800’ near Pasadena. The Los Angeles Airport was forced to close because 50 mph wind gusts blew debris over the runways. Low elevation wind gusts of 50-70 mph affected the entire southern California region and endured for almost 24 hours. Hundreds of large trees fell, downing power lines and causing small fires. At one point over 200,000 homes lost electricity, most in the San Bernardino Valley towns of Altadena and Pasadena.
A van is crushed by a fallen tree in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles following the high winds of December 1st. Photo by Mike Meadows/AP.
In Central California strong Diablo winds (the equivalent of ‘Santa Anas’ in the San Francisco Bay Area, also caused some damage and power outages, although not on the scale as in Southern California. The peak wind gust was 77 mph on the summit of Mt. Diablo (4100’). Amazing winds were recorded along the Sierra Nevada crests in the Mammoth Lake region with a RAWS site (Mammoth Summit Gondola 2) at 11,053’ reporting sustained winds up to 148 mph. The anemometer only registered up to 150 mph so the highest actual wind gust can only be estimated. Jan Null, a former Lead Forecaster for the NWS and chief meteorologist at Golden Gate Weather Services, calculated that the peak wind gusts would have been around 175 mph. This would be close to the highest wind gust ever reported from California (176 mph at Mt. Ward above the Alpine Valley Ski Resort, date NA).
Winds in Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico
By December 1st the high winds began to ramp up in the Great Basin and in New Mexico. Kane Springs, Nevada reported a gust to 98 mph (far short of the 141 mph gust, a state record if confirmed, reported from Virginia Peak on Nov. 19 during the wind event that burned dozens of homes in the Reno area).
In Utah, a peak wind of 102 mph was measured in Centreville, just north of Salt Lake City. Tractor-trailer trucks and other high-profile vehicles were blown over along Interstate Hwy 15 and flying debris closed many roads in the Provo-Ogden Salt Lake City corridor.
One of the many vehicles overturned by high winds in the Salt Lake City area where wind gusts as high as 102 mph were recorded on December 1st. Photo by Leah Hogsten, The Salt Lake City Tribune.
In Colorado news reports mentioned wind gusts to 123 mph at some site near Steamboat Springs Ski Resort in the central part of the state.
In Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado heavy snow developed in the higher elevations (24” fell at Show Low, Navajo County in Arizona) while high winds raked the lower elevations. Peak wind gust in New Mexico was 78 mph at Dripping Springs on December 1st. The El Paso, Texas area was also slammed, with a peak wind gust of 75 mph measured at Mesa Hills, five miles west of El Paso city.
A Note on the Use in the Media of the Term “hurricane-force winds”
Jan Null admonishes the media for the widespread misuse of the term “hurricane-force winds” whenever an event such as this happens. He recently posted, in my opinion important, this statement concerning the issue:
“The ongoing strong wind events in the West are spawning the return of the dreaded "hurricane force winds" and "hurricane force gusts" terminology. Here's how I feel about the topic:
It seems that anytime there is a wind gust over about 60 mph the airwaves and other sources, including NWS statements, are rife with the expression “hurricane force” winds. While this might be good for conveying that it’s windy and might be dangerous, it’s both bad meteorology and bad physics! (And calling it a hurricane force gust doesn’t make it right either).
Let’s start with some basics. The threshold for hurricane winds is when the 1-minute sustained winds equal or exceed 74 miles per hour. Please note the word “sustained”! According to the NOAA Hurricane Research Division , peak 3 to 5-second gusts are approximately 30% higher than their associated sustained winds. This means that a 74 mph sustained wind of a minimal hurricane has gusts in the range of 96 mph. Quite a difference.
But that’s just the wind speed. What about the amount of force from the wind onto a surface that is perpendicular to the wind? From high school physics we remember that the force associated with a given speed is proportional to the square of the wind speed. (For the overachievers out there, the formula to calculate this force is: F = .00256 x V^2, where F is the force in pounds per square foot (psf), and V is the wind velocity in mph) Consequently, the amount of force with a 74 mph gust is 14.0 psf, while the force from a 96 mph gust is 23.6 psf; or 69% higher.
The bottom line is that a gust to 74 mph is NOT even close to hurricane force!"
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
All for now.
Christopher C. Burt
KUDOS: To Jan Null (former Lead Forecaster with the National Weather Service for California and Adjunct Professor and Lecturer at San Francisco State University) and chief meteorologist at Golden State Weather Services for providing information on peak wind gusts in the Sierra Nevada and his comments on ‘hurricane-force' winds.
Updated: 7:37 AM GMT on December 04, 2011