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, 8:04 PM GMT on May 22, 2012
The Wettest Places in the World
Last week I blogged about a new potentially wettest location in the United States (and thus also Oceania). However, new data has come to my attention indicating that a site in New Zealand may be even wetter than Hawaii’s wettest locations.
This is a brief survey of the wettest locations in the world. However, unlike Hawaii, it is difficult to find good up to date data for many of these locations. I have arranged the data by continents; from those with the wettest locations in the world to the ‘driest-wettest’ with the caveat of New Zealand.
A generalized map of global average annual precipitation.
Wettest locations in the World (Annual Average Precipitation)
Mawsynram, Meghalaya State, India 467.35”/11871 mm (wettest place in the world)
Cherrapunji, Meghalaya State, India 463.66”/11777 mm
Emei Shan, Sichuan Province, China 321.6”/8169 mm (wettest place in China)
Mawsynram (population about 350, elevation approximately 4,600’) and Cherrapunji (population about 10,000, elevation 4,309’ and also known as Sohra) are both located in the Khasi Hills on the Shillong Plateau of Meghalaya, India and are about 10 miles from one another. These are generally considered the wettest locations in the world for which there is measured data.
The Khasi Hills, wettest location in the world, are famous for the spectacular waterfalls that fall to the plains below. Photo source Wikipedia, photographer not identified.
The Khasi hills catch the full brunt of the southwest monsoon blowing off the Bay of Bengal between May and October. About 90% of their rain falls during this period. July alone averages over 120”/3050 mm, the highest monthly average rainfall in the world. Variability from one monsoon to another can be tremendous. Cherrapunji has had as much as 905”/22987 mm and as little as 282”/7163 mm in a single monsoon season (May–October) and as much as 1,041.78”/26461 mm in one year (August 1, 1860-July 31, 1861), a world record. What is amazing is that there was NO measurable rainfall that season (1860-1861) during November, December, February, and March (or the data was simply missing for those months—see table below).
Another world record, for monthly rainfall, was set here in July of 1861 when an astonishing 366.14”/9300 mm of rain fell (an average of 11.81”/300 mm for each day of the month!). The two-month period of June-July 1861 saw 502.63”/12767 mm of rainfall and the three-month period of May-July 644.44”/16369 mm (almost as much as the all-time annual record for Mt. Waialeale in Hawaii (683”/17347 mm)! An unverified source claims Mawsynram received 1,024.4”/26000mm) in 1985.
The mean of 463.66”/11777 mm at Cherrapunji is based on the POR of 1971-1990. Records here go back to 1851 (broken record) and the mean for the POR of 1851-1920 was 456.95”/11607 mm. For the POR of 2000-2010 Cherrapunji averaged 440.11”/11179 mm a year, and Mawsynram 477.88”/12138 mm.
This table shows the comparison of annual rainfall measured at Cherrapunji and Mawsynram between 1998-2010. Indian Meteorological Department.
For those interested in the actual raw data for Cherrapunji from 1851-1905 (there is a second page of data that continues to 1920 on page 247) I provide you with this table from ‘World Weather Records’, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections Vol. 79, p. 246 published by the Smithsonian Institute in 1929.
Tutunendo, Colombia 448.58”/11394 mm
Quibdo, Colombia 423.19”/10749
*(Lloro, Colombia estimate 523.6”/13300 mm)
The precipitation at Lloro is an estimated amount, the location being 14 miles southeast of Quibdo and at a higher elevation. Quibdo once recorded 781.06”/19839 mm in a single year, 1936. If the estimate for Lloro’s wetter location is correct, one might assume that during 1936 over 1,100”/27940 mm would have fallen at Lloro, which would have constituted an annual world record for precipitation. A web site claims that Tutendo received 1,036.34”/26323 mm in 1974. This cannot be verified.
Detailed precipitation data, like periods of record, are very difficult to come by for Colombia. The Colombian meteorological service (Instituto de Hydrologia, Meteorologia y Estudios Ambientales-IDEAM) has an impenetrable web site that demands a complex and byzantine user access application form. So the record for Lloro or other wet spots in Columbia locations (like Tutunendo) cannot be verified by myself.
The Colombian meteorological service (IDEAM) posts this map on its web site of Columbia’s average annual precipitation. Details are not available to the public.
Bahia Felix in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego has an average of 325 days a year with rain, the most in the world for a permanently inhabited location (some of the wetter remote Hawaiian Island sites probably exceed this figure). Bahia Felix averages 166.33”/4225 mm of precipitation a year. It is estimated that the wettest locations in this region at elevated parts near the southern tip of South America may reach 200-250”/5000-6500mm per annum.
Oceania (excluding New Zealand—scroll down further)
Big Bog, Maui, Hawaii 404.40”/10272 mm
Mt. Waialeale, Kauai, Hawaii 384.35”/9763 mm
Kukui, Maui, Hawaii 365.87"/9293 mm
All of these locations are uninhabited near mountaintops on their respective islands. See my last blog for details on Hawaii’s (and thus the U.S.A. and perhaps Oceania’s wettest locations). The figures above represent the amounts measured for the 30-year POR of 1987-2007 although for Big Bog the data from 1977-1992 was estimated.
An old photo from 1933 shows workers next to the 900-inch (28860 mm) capacity rain gauge they set up near the summit of Mt. Waialeale, perhaps the wettest location in the U.S.A. Photo from USGS archives.
Ureca, Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea 411.42”/10450 mm
Debundscha, Cameroon 405.47”/10299 mm
The period of record for Ureca (also know as San Antonio de Ureca) was just 7 years during the 1930s or 1940s. Detailed precipitation data for Bioko Island (formerly known as Fernando Poo) in the Gulf of Guinea is no longer available. The wettest month is July when an average 86.81”/2205 mm of rain falls here.
Isohetyl map of Bioko Island (formerly Fernando Poo), a possession of Equatorial Guinea south of the coast of Cameroon. Ureca, on the southern tip of the island, is quite possibly the wettest location in Africa, and one of the wettest in the world. Map from ‘Climates of Africa’ World Survey of Climatology Vol. 10.
Debundscha, Cameroon is on the African mainland just north of Bioko on the coastline near Mt. Cameroon, a 13,435-foot peak (4095 meters). Deep moisture flowing in from the Gulf of Guinea and encountering Mt. Cameroon and the high peak of Bioko (Mt. Santa Isabel at 10,000 feet/3027 m) are what account for the extraordinary rainfall at these locations. Modern data is very hard to come by and the POR for Debubdscha is unknown. The figures I present here are from ‘Climates of Africa’ World Survey of Climatology Vol. 10, Elsevier Publishing Company, 1972 (pp. 284-289).
A map of Cameroon showing the location of Debundscha that rests at the southern foot of Mt. Cameroon. The island of Bioko can be seen in the Gulf of Guinea offshore.
Another location of potentially extreme rainfall is the volcanic highlands of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean some 500 miles/800kilometers east of Madagascar. I cannot discern average annual rainfall amounts for the wettest locations and the intense rainfall here is almost always associated with tropical storms that occasionally traverse the island. For instance 212.60”/5400 mm of rain fell in one week at Commerson on February 24-March 2, 2007 and 73.62”/1871 mm at Cilaos in 24 hours on March 15-16, 1952. Both are world records for their respective time frames (not to mention the 52.76”/1340 mm in 12 hours at Belouve on February 28, 1964).
For a comprehensive look at all the extraordinary rainfall events on Reunion Island see my book ‘Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book’.
Australia and New Zealand
Bellenden Ker, Queensland, Australia 321.46” (8165 mm)
Bellenden Ker is located at an altitude of 5226 feet (1593 m) some 40 miles south of Cairns in Queensland. This is the 2nd highest mountain in the state. February is the wettest month with an average of 56” (1422 mm) of rainfall. A tropical storm in January 1979, produced almost 100” (2540 mm) of rain in just three days here and the total 212.09” (5387 mm) for that month is a record for Australia. In the year 2000, 490.59” (12461 mm) was measured, an annual record for the country. The POR for the average annual precipitation is for 1973-2011.
Cropp at Waterfall, South Island 453.38”/11516 mm
Milford Sound, South Island 245.2”/6228 mm
The gorgeous fiord of Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations and also long considered the country’s officially wettest location. It once received 22”/559 mm of rainfall in 24 hours on April 17, 1939. However, portions of the western Fiordland and Westland of the Southern Alps are estimated to receive as much as 630”/16000 mm of precipitation a year. If true some location there could be the wettest on earth.
Recent data for a RAWS site known as Cropps at Waterfall in Westland on the South Island (see map below) reported an average annual rainfall of 453.38”/11516 mm for the POR of 1982-2011. The location is situated at 43° 04’S, 171° 01’E. In 1998 the site reported 654.21”/16617 mm and for the 365-day period of Oct. 30, 1997-Oct. 29, 1998 and an amazing 724.60”/18405 mm. Its 24-hour record was 29.84”/758 mm on December 27-28, 1989. The site elevation is about 3,200’/975 m.
Here is a map showing the approximate location of Cropps at Waterfall, New Zealand, perhaps the wettest location on earth aside from the Khasi Hills of India. Map courtesy of the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) from where the data for Cropps at Waterfall was also obtained. NIWA is the equivalent of the NCDC to the NWS in U.S. parlance.
Bowden Pen, Jamaica 307.9”/7821 mm
The recent POR for Bowden Pen is not known. This record dates from the 1940-1970 period.
Annual rainfall is estimated to be as high as 400”/10160 mm on the highest mountain peaks of the Caribbean Islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica. No actual weather sites have been established in these areas, past or present.
Henderson Lake, B.C., Canada 261.8”/6650 mm
Little Port Arthur, Alaska, U.S.A. 236.59”/6009 mm
Henderson Lake, British Columbia is located in the southwest of Vancouver Island on the south shore of Henderson Lake at an altitude of 20 feet (6 m). Its location is specified at 49° 2’N, 125° 1’W. Its wettest year on record was 1931 with 319.80”/8123 mm and wettest month December 1923 with 79.49”/2019 mm. The measurements were made at a fish hatchery that is no longer in operation. I do not know its complete POR, or the POR for the annual average precipitation mentioned above.
The POR for Little Port Arthur, Alaska is 1981-2010 for the figure presented, the most recent POR available, and makes this the wettest location in the United States outside of Hawaii. The site is located on the southern part of Baranof Island in southeast Alaska. Records here go back to 1936 although nobody seems to know much about the place. Its coordinates are 56° 23'N, 134° 39'W.
The wettest location in the contiguous United States, according to the latest NCDC records (POR 1981-2010), is 122.28”/3106 mm at Langlois, Oregon. Greater amounts are likely at isolated locations in the coastal mountain ranges of both Oregon and Washington.
Crkvica, Bosnia-Herzegovina 183.0”/4648 mm
The POR for this site is 22 years according to the WMO (exact years not provided). This site is located at 4298 feet (1310 m) in a mountain valley about 40 miles southwest of Sarajevo. There are probably wetter locations in Europe but nobody seems to have made any real effort to find such.
Crib Goch in Snowdonia, Wales U.K. is reported to average 168.58”/4282 mm a year (POR 1941-1970) making it the wettest location in Britain. However, British weather historian Stephen Burt comments further:
“In England, the central peaks of the Lake District are wettest, with an average annual rainfall something over 4000 mm/yr (157”). The gauge at Styhead (335 m AMSL) averaged 3947 mm/155.39” annually over 1941-70; the surrounding mountains receive perhaps 4500 mm/177”yr.
In Wales, the wettest places are around the summit of Snowdon, where a smaller area receives > 4000 mm/157”yr. The average at Llyn Llydaw may be very close to 5000 mm/197”yr.
In Ireland, there are several spots in Co. Kerry where the annual average exceeds 3000 mm/118”yr. Based upon the Met Éireann 1961-90 averages, the wettest gauged locations in Ireland were Mt Torc (Mangerton No. 3), at 808 m AMSL, at 3230 mm/127.16”yr, and Mt Ballaghbeama (311 m AMSL) with 3224 mm/126.93” annually. Both monthly gauges have over 50 years records.
Wettest of all are the mountains of western Scotland, where there are several areas with an annual average > 4000 mm/157”yr. The wettest is probably Glen Garry, where several gauges in the notoriously wet Kinlochquoich area received 4000-4200 mm/yr at even moderate altitudes, and some spots receive well over 5000 mm/197” most years. There are inevitable problems with rain gauges in remote, mountainous areas, not least the effects of snowfall and wind, but the records are probably as reliable and accurate as they can be, given the circumstances.
Except where indicated otherwise, all of these are based upon 1941-70 averages, which are the most recent rainfall averages to be published and mapped in any detail by the Met Office. Since that period western Scotland has become considerably wetter, and it's likely that more recent averaging periods will show average annual rainfall totals 20 per cent or more higher than the 1941-70 averaging period. The wettest gauged spots in western Scotland probably now receive around 5000 mm/197”yr, and the very wettest locations around 6000 mm/236”.
A map of the average annual precipitation for the United Kingdom (POR 1971-2000). Map courtesy of the UK Met. Office. To roughly convert inches to mm multiply the mm figure by .0394.
Obviously, the above information would indicate that it is quite possible that there may be locations in the British Isles that are wetter than the currently accepted Bosnian record for such in Europe.
Melchior, Antarctic Peninsula 46.81”/1189 mm
This is actually a group of small islands located off the very northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula at 64°20’ S and 62°59’W (about as far north as the frozen continent extends). The POR is for 1947-1960 and made by an Argentinean base that was located there at that time.
The small island group of the Melchiors (various spellings) is located near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the continent’s most northerly possession. The heart of the Antarctic continent is one of the driest locations on earth. Photo from Wikipedia, photographer unidentified.
The list below comprises all the wettest locations on earth that we have actual data for. This does not mean these are, in fact, the absolute wettest locations in the world. One may assume that there are even wetter spots beyond the reach of direct scientific observation and that over time certain places may become drier whereas others may become wetter.
The Top Ten Wettest Places in the World
1. 467.35”/11871 mm Mawsynram, Meghalaya State, India, Asia
2. 463.66”/11777 mm Cherrapunji, Meghalaya State, India, Asia
3. 463.40”/11770 mm Tutendo, Colombia, South America
4. 453.38”/11516 mm Cropp at Waterfall, New Zealand
5. 411.42”/10450 mm Ureca, Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, Africa
6. 405.47”/10299 mm Debundscha, Cameroon, Africa
7. 404.40”/10272 mm Big Bog, Maui, Hawaii, Oceania
8. 384.35”/9763 mm Mt. Waialeale, Kauai, Hawaii, Oceania
9. 365.87"/9293 mm Kukui, Maui, Hawaii, Oceania
10. 321.60”/8169 mm Emei Shan, Sichuan Province, China, Asia
*(estimate 523.6”/13300 mm Lloro, Colombia, South America)
KUDOS: Blair Trewin for Australian and New Zealand data and Stephen Burt for his insights on precipitation in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
(P.S. I will be away on holiday until June 1, so this will be my last post for the next two weeks).
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 9:02 PM GMT on March 18, 2013
By: weatherhistorian, 10:32 PM GMT on May 15, 2012
New Wettest Location for the U.S.A. Discovered?
A team of scientists from the University of Hawaii-Manoa Geography Department has recently published a rainfall atlas to the state and may have discovered a new ‘wettest spot’ in the islands and thus for the entire United States. In 1992 they set up a rain gauge at a location known as the ‘Big Bog’ on the edge of Haleakala National Park on Maui Island. They had originally estimated the rainfall at this site to be on the order of 180” per annum, but the second year of data (1994) saw an amazing 560” of precipitation fall. The 30-year (1978-2007) average annual rainfall was 404" at Big Bog (estimated from 1992-2007 data) vs. 393" at Mt. Waialeale.
A photograph of the eastern wall of Mt. Waialeale, a cliff known as the ‘Big Hole’ and the location where amazing orographics lead to the extraordinary rainfall totals measured near the mountain's summit. Photo by Paul Chesley.
For years the acknowledged wettest location in the U.S. (and one of the wettest in the world) has been a site located at 5,150’ near the summit of Mt. Waialeale on Hawaii’s Kauai Island. Precipitation records began here in 1912 when a ‘super’ 900-inch capacity rain gauge was installed.
A 900-inch rain gauge is prepared for transport to Mt. Waialeale’s summit in this 1928 photograph. U.S. Geological Survey collection.
A schematic of the rain gauge the USGS currently maintains on Mt. Waialeale. Graphic from USGS.
The rainfall records at the site have been more or less continuously monitored since 1912 with the exception of 1958-1963 (with annual inspections made until 1931 when monthly inspections began). Access to the site used to involve a grueling mule-back journey to the summit until helicopters came in to use in the 1950s.
Near the summit of Mt. Waialeale, where the rain gauge is located, there is a small pond but no trees. The persistent cloud cover and rainfall inhibits their growth. Photo by Steve Perlman for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The reason for the amazing precipitation totals at both Mt. Waialeale and Big Bog are the persistent easterly trade winds that bring moisture from the Pacific up against the steep mountainsides of the Hawaiian Islands creating orographic lift below an inversion layer that normally exists at around 7,000’. This is why the higher peaks of Hawaii, like Mauna Loa (13,679’) and Mauna Kea (13,796’) on the Big Island are among the driest locations (just 8.4” precipitation per annum) in the state.
This graphic illustrates the climatic scenario common to the Hawaiian Islands where trade winds are orographically lifted producing persistent rainfall in mountainous zones between 3,000-6,000’. An inversion layer around 7,000’ caps the cloud tops. Graphic from ‘The Rainfall Atlas of Hawaii’, 2011 edition, University of Hawaii-Manoa Geography Department (see link at end of blog).
The actual annual average amount of precipitation that accumulates at the Mt. Waialeale site is open to various interpretations. For the entire POR (1912-2011—excluding 1958-1963) it is 423.13”. For the most recent 30-year POR (1981-2010) it is just 384.35”. The previous 30-year POR (1971-2000) saw an average of 399.85”. Many sources, including my book, Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book, and the Guinness Book of World Records, use a figure of 450-460”/year as the average. This figure was based on an earlier, wetter, period between 1938-1957. The peak-wet period would be 1921-1950 when the average was 471.67”. The single wettest year was 1982 at Mt. Waialeale (thanks in part to Hurricane Iwa) with 682.94” and the driest in 1926 with 218.00”.
Table of annual rainfall at Mt. Waialeale 1912-2011 with cumulative average annual rainfall rates for various periods of record overlaid. USGS graphic.
In any case, there are in reality only two figures which should be noted so far as the average annual precipitation at Mt. Waialeale is concerned:
1) the latest official 30-year POR of 1981-2010 with 384.35”
2) the entire POR from 1912-2011 with 423.13”
Other citations, such as the commonly used 460”/annum figure, are ‘cherry picking’ the data.
Rainfall map of Kauai illustrating the tremendous range of annual average precipitation. This map was produced for my book ‘Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book’ and erroneously uses the 460”/annum figure for Mt. Waialeale. Map by Mark Stroud.
Change in Precipitation Patterns in Hawaii
There has been a marked decrease in precipitation at the location since 1990 (the 2nd driest year on record was 1993 with 244.36”). The reason for this is complex. Here is what the authors of the Rainfall Atlas of Hawaii say on the subject:
“The maps comprising the 2011 Rainfall Atlas of Hawai’i depict average rainfall for the 30-year period ending in 2007. This gives an up-to-date picture of normal rainfall amounts and patterns. But, we must be aware that rainfall varies over time. For example, we have strong evidence that rainfall in Hawai’i is affected on a year-to-year time scale by the occurrence of El Niños and La Niñas. These events are part of a large-scale interaction between the ocean and atmosphere centered in the equatorial Pacific, known as El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). In particular, El Niño is consistently associated with lower than normal rainfall during winter months in Hawaiʻi. Because Hawaiʻi is relatively close to the center of action of ENSO, its effects are strong here. El Niños and La Niñas recur on average about every 3 to 7 years. This gives rise to large year-to-year variability in rainfall in Hawaiʻi.
Another, perhaps less familiar ocean-atmosphere interaction, known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), also exerts a strong influence on Hawaiʻi rainfall. The PDO is somewhat similar to ENSO, but varies much more slowly, with each phase lasting up to 30 years. During most of the base period for the 2011 Hawaiʻi Rainfall Atlas of Hawaiʻi (1978-2007), the PDO was in its positive phase, which is generally associated with lower rainfall in Hawaiʻi.
In addition to natural variations in rainfall, we are now aware of long-term trends that might be caused by global warming. Over the past 90-100 years, while the effects of ENSO and PDO caused large ups and downs, rainfall in Hawaiʻi has slowly declined overall. This decline has been especially apparent during recent decades, in part, because it coincides with the low rainfall phase of the PDO. However, the rainfall record and other evidence point to a downward trend in mean rainfall that may persist at least through the end of this century. One possible explanation for the decline has to do with the weather disturbances that regularly disrupt the trade wind inversion and produce widespread rainfall over the islands. These disturbances, often associated with incursions of mid-latitude weather systems into the Hawaiʻi region during winter, have declined in frequency, as storm tracks have apparently migrated northward. This shift in storm tracks is thought to be a result of global warming and is predicted to continue. If these predictions are borne out, we will continue to see ups and downs in rainfall in the future related to ENSO and PDO, but mean rainfall will decline, and drought will become more frequent.”
Big Bog is located at 5,440’ on the border of Haleakala National Park and the Hana Forest Reserve on the eastern side of Maui Island overlooking the town of Hana.
Map of Maui with inset showing location of Big Bog on the border of Haleakala National Park. National Park Service.
A team from the Geography Department of the University of Hawaii-Manoa led by Tom Giambelluca set up a rain gauge here in 1992 as part of a network of instruments (the HaleNet network) used for data the recent edition of Rainfall Atlas of Hawaii (see link at end of blog). In 1993, the first full year of operation, the gauge at Big Bog measured 338.90” of rainfall. This is particularly astonishing since 1993 was one of the drier years for the Hawaiian islands, in fact it was the 2nd driest year on record for Mt. Waialeale which picked up only 244.36”. The next year, 1994 saw 560.3” at Big Bog compared to 489.44” at Mt. Waialeale, the wettest year for Mt. Waialeale since 1990 and 2nd wettest since the big year of 1982 (and to 2011 still such).
Mean annual rainfall map of Maui and surrounding islands. Big Bog is located near the center of the maximum precipitation region on the eastern portion of the island. From ‘The Rainfall Atlas of Hawaii’, Dept. of Geography, Univ. of Hawai’I at Manoa.
The scientists have now estimated that the 30-year mean precipitation at Big Bog for the POR of 1978-2007 is 404.4”. The actual measured mean for the same period at Mt. Waialeale was 393.3”. Although there have been some months of missing data since 1992, the team has made careful estimates to fill the gaps based upon the group of nearby gauges in the HaleNet network and other statistical methods. The details of how this was done may be read in their atlas (link at end of blog).
A map of the HaleNet (Haleakala Climate Network) rain gauge network in eastern Maui. Big Bog has an SKN (state identifier number) of 276 and a HaleNet number of 164 which can be identified on this map. Image produced by Max Chen for Univ. of Hawai’i-Manoa Geography Department.
Afternoon sun shines over Haleakala Crater on Maui. The Trade Wind Inversion caps clouds at a lower elevation. The photo was taken at an elevation of 2470m (about 8,100’) from HaleNet site #161 (see above map), the Pohaku Palaha Station. Photo by rainfall atlas team leader Tom Giambelluca.
Comparing Big Bog to Mt. Waialeale
For the specific 30-year POR (1978-2007) it would appear that Big Bog is wetter than Mt. Waialeale. However, 15 of the 30 years of precipitation measurements at Big Bog are estimated so it will not be until 2023 that we will have an actually observed 30-year POR. Nevertheless, at least for the past 18 years that we do have records for, Big Bog does seem to be more or less consistently wetter than Mt. Waialeale. Thus one can conclude with a degree of certainty that this is indeed the new wettest location in the United States.
Of course, there could be even wetter spots somewhere in the Hawaiian Islands and there are, for certain, wetter spots at other locations around the world. That will be the subject of my next blog.
KUDOS: Special thanks to the authors of the Rain Atlas of Hawaii at the Univ. of Hawaii-Manoa: “Giambelluca TW, Chen Q, Frazier AG, Price JP, Chen Y-L, Chu P-S, Eischeid J., and Delparte, D. 2011. The Rainfall Atlas of Hawai‘i.”
Also thanks to Jan Null, Certified Consulting Meteorologist at Golden Gate Weather Services, for bringing the Big Bog story to my attention.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 10:26 PM GMT on May 16, 2012
By: weatherhistorian, 9:29 PM GMT on May 10, 2012
April 2012 Global Weather Extremes Summary
April was notable weather-wise for more spring heat records in the U.S.A. and much of Europe. National heat records (for warmest temperature on record) occurred in the United States (a tie), Germany, Austria, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Hungry, Croatia, Ukraine, and Slovakia as well as the cities of Moscow and Munich among others. A massive tornado outbreak affected the central U.S.A. on April 14th and severe storms also caused fatalities in Argentina, Japan, India, and China.
Below is a summary some of the month’s highlights.
Following the extraordinarily warm March of 2012, April continued the trend of much above normal temperatures for much of the contiguous U.S. although not nearly on the same scale as March. In fact, several cities, like Chicago and Rockford, Illinois recorded cooler average temperatures than March (a first on record) in spite of still being warmer than normal during the month! All-time April monthly record highs were tied or broken at the following locations:
Phoenix, Arizona: 105°F on April 22 (previous 105° April temperatures occurred on 4/20/1989 and 4/29/1992)
Las Vegas, Nevada: 99°F on April 22 (tying old record set 4/30/1981)
Reno, Nevada: 90° on April 23 (old record 89° 4/30/1981)
Elko, Nevada: 87° on April 22 (old record 86° 4/30/1981). This also beat the previous so-warm-so-early-in-the-season record by 4°.
Ely, Nevada: 86° on April 22 (old record 82° 4/28/1992)
Winnemucca, Nevada: 90° on April 22 and 23 (tying old record set 4/30/1981)
Death Valley, California: 113° on April 22 and 23 (tying old record set on April 24, 1946). This temperature may also tie the U.S. national record for the month of April if one disavows a suspicious reading of 118° from Volcano Springs, California in April of 1898.
Grand Junction, Colorado: 89° on April 23 and 24 (tying all-time April record also set on 4/29 and 4/30, 1992)
Amarillo, Texas: 99° on April 25 (old April record 98° on 4/22/1989 and 4/22/1965)
Lubbock, Texas: 104° on April 25 (old April record 100° on 4/16/1925 and /22/1989)
Midland, Texas: 104° on April 25 (old April record 101° on 4/21/1989)
Abilene, Texas: 104° on April 25 (old April record 102° on 4/16/1925)
Childress, Texas: 106° (old April record 102° on three occasions, most recently on 4/3/2011)
The month was the hottest April on record for much of northern Texas (again):
Furthermore, the warm April led to the 12-month period of May 2011-April 2012 being the warmest 12-month period in U.S. history.
This map showing how each state ranked out of 117 possible years for the 12-month period of May 2011-Apil 2012.
In spite of all the heat records set there was a rare late-season snowstorm over the highlands of the Appalachians of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. The peak total was 23.7” at Laurel Summit (elevation 2,700’) in south-central Pennsylvania. Ithaca, New York received a 6” accumulation.
A massive tornado outbreak produced approximately 100 twisters across the central plains on April 14-15. There were six fatalities in the city of Woodward, Oklahoma and Wichita, Kansas suffered $283 million in damages. The strongest single tornado was one rated EF-4 near Salina, Kansas.
A still from an amazing video taken of the EF-4 tornado near Salina in Ellsworth County, Kansas on April 14th. Video by David R. Mabe and worth Googling to watch the entire clip!
A rare thunderstorm hit the San Francisco Bay Area on the evening of April 13th producing 700 lightning strikes over the course of the 3-hour storm. It was the most intense such event since September 1999.
An amazing photo captures both towers of the Golden Gate Bridge being struck almost simultaneously during the storm on the evening of April 13th. Photo by Chris Blain.
Heavy rains in Haiti on April 23 resulted in flash floods that drowned at least nine. The Dominican Republic was also affected with over 11,000 forced to evacuate their homes.
The coldest temperature in the northern hemisphere was a reading of -51.7°F (-46.5°C) at Summit station on Greenland April 20th.
SOUTH AMERICA and CENTRAL AMERICA
A severe thunderstorm walloped Buenos Aires, Argentina the night of April 4th. Wind gusts over 60 mph toppled walls and blew off roofs in and around the city. At least 13 were killed and 20 injured in the region surrounding the city (including 4 in the downtown area. Large hail was also reported.
April provided a month of sharp contrasts across the sub-continent with the British Isles reporting their wettest April on record and cooler than normal temperatures while areas from Germany eastward measured all-time April heat and drought.
In the U.K. the maximum temperature failed to reach 20° C (68°F) for the first time since 1989 and the month was actually cooler than the previous March. Most of the country reported more than 200% of normal precipitation, greatly alleviating the on-going drought situation.
The wettest April on record was recorded in the U.K. this past month Map from the U.K. Met Office.
The warmest temperature reported was 19.7°C (67.5°F) at Kew Gardens, London on April 30th, the coldest being -8.2°C (17.2°F) at Braemar, Scotland on April 5th, and the greatest 24-hour precipitation netting 46mm (1.81”) at Liscombe, Somerset on April 29-30. A rather significant late-season snowfall buried Whitehillocks, Angus under 22cm on April 3rd.
Elsewhere in Europe the big story was an unprecedented April heat wave the last three days of the month. A total of 10 national all-time April heat records were broken:
Poland: 31.7°C (89.18°F) at Tomaszow on 4/29
Germany: 32.2°C (90.0°F) at Munich on 4/28
Austria: 31.8°C (89.2°F) at Ranshoten on 4/28
Belarus: 30.4°C ( 86.7°F) at Zitovici on 4/29
Moldova 32.5°C (90.5°F) at unknown location
Lithuania 28.9°C (84.0°F) at Vilnius on 4/28
Slovakia 31.3°C (88.3°F) at Dudince on 4/28
Croatia 31.3° (88.3°F) at Daruvar on 4/29
Hungry 31.8°C (89.2°F) at Pecs on 4/30
Ukraine 33.3°C (91.9°F) at Komisarivka on 4/30
Additional national monthly heat records may have been set in Romania 32.2C, Bulgaria 33.2C and Bosnia over 31C, but we have to find confirmation of such (as national April heat records).
In addition Moscow recorded its warmest April temperature on record with a reading of 28.9°C on April 30th. Prague, Czech Republic also broke its April heat record with 30.7°C (records here go back to 1775!). Hundreds of other cities across the region also broke records. The complete list is simply too long to include in my brief summary.
I am unaware of any significant extreme weather events in Africa during this past April.
A powerful extra-tropical storm lashed Japan on April 3 lashing Tokyo with its highest winds recorded in 50 years with gusts to 87 mph. Two people were reported killed and “dozens” injured. Waves of 10 meters (33 feet) lashed the northwest coast of Honshu Island.
Strong winds on April 23rd also blasted northwest China’s province of Xinjiang with gusts of 73 mph (117 km/h) reported in the Turpan Depression area. The winds damaged 165 homes and fanned a fire that resulted in the death of one person.
An early monsoonal storm the night of April 30-May 1 caused an overloaded passenger ferry to capsize on the Brahmaputra River in Assam State, India resulting the deaths of perhaps as many as 160 people. This was likely the deadliest weather-related event in the world during April.
The flimsy remains of the ferry that capsized during a storm on India’s Brahmaputra River April 30th. Some 150-180 perished and there were 100 survivors. Hard to imagine how 250-280 people could have crammed on to this boat. Photo from AFP (Agence France Presse).
The highest temperature recorded in the northern hemisphere and the world during April was a reading of 115.0°F (46.1°C) at Chauk, Myanmar (Burma) on April 17th. Bangkok, Thailand suffered through its 2nd hottest April on record when temperatures averaged 32.2°C (90°F) for the month. There were 6 consecutive 38°C+ (100°F) days at the end of the month.
As the two-year long La Niña event finally relaxed its grip, Australia’s weather patterns returned to mostly normal this past April and, finally, some drier than normal precipitation totals after months of extreme rainfalls. Temperatures were about average nation-wide with the exception of Tasmania where it was the 4th warmest April on record.
At last a reasonably dry month across Australia during April Map from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
The warmest temperature reported in the country and the southern hemisphere was 42.0°C (107.6°F) at Roeburne, Western Australia on April 3. The coldest national reading was -8.0°C (17.6°F) at Charlotte Pass, New South Wales on April 11th and the wettest calendar day produced 183.4mm (7.22”) of precipitation at Gold Coast Seaway, Queensland on April 29th.
NEW ZEALAND/SOUTH PACIFIC
New Zealand experienced extremely dry conditions over the southern section of the South Island with just 5mm (0.20”) measured at Alexandra for the entire month. It was also unusually warm over the same region. A national high of 27.3°C (81.1°F) was reported from Firth of Thames, North Island on April 4. The coldest temperature for the month was -3.6°C (25.5°F) at Lake Pukaki, South Island on April 24th and the wettest day netted 102mm (4.02”) at Gisborne, North Island on April 3. An extreme wind gust of 94mph (152 km/h) was measured at Akito (Wairarapa), North Island on April 30th.
The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere and the world during April was -74.5°C (-102.1°F) recorded at Concordia on April 22nd.
KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data, Stephen Burt for the U.K. extremes, and Jeremy Budd for New Zealand weather extremes.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 6:54 PM GMT on June 19, 2012
By: weatherhistorian, 8:52 PM GMT on May 03, 2012
On April 6, 2011 I posted a blog about the “world’s deadliest tornados”. I had no idea that just three weeks later one of the world’s deadliest tornado outbreaks would occur on April 27th. Then on May 22nd Joplin, Missouri was hit by one of the single deadliest tornados on record leading 2011 to become the 2nd deadliest tornado year in U.S. records. This weak, May 3-10, is historically the most active weak for tornados in the U.S.A., so I thought this might be a good time to look back at what the deadliest tornadoes on record have been, not just in the U.S.A., but the world as well. So far this year (2012 as of May 3rd) there have been 63 tornado-related fatalities in the U.S., quite a bit above the long-term average for such at this date and mostly as a result of the twister outbreak of March 2nd in the Ohio Valley.
A map illustrating the regions of the U.S. that have recorded significant (EF-3 or stronger) tornados. The vast majority of tornado-related fatalities occur during the storms designated as ‘violent’ (EF-4 or EF-5 strength. Map from wunderground.com
The United States and Canada are the only countries in the world to have verified reports of the most violent tornadoes: those with a classification of F-5 or EF-5 (wind speeds estimated to be in excess of 260mph/417kph and measured as high as 318mph/512kph on the old Fujita Scale or over 200mph/320kph on the new Enhanced Fujita scale). See this link for the details about the Fujita and Enhanced Fujita Scales and the differences between the two.
Since 1900 there have only been a total of 103 such storms, all but one in the United States. In all but 10 cases these storms resulted in fatalities. This table (originally from my book Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book) represents all the known F-5 or EF-5 tornado events in the world since 1900-2006. The table following this lists the EF-5 tornados that have occurred since the new designation took effect in 2007:
A F-5 tornado completely swept away the town of Glazier, Texas on April 9, 1947. The same tornado killed 181 in Woodward, Oklahoma (see table above) and so ranks as the 6th deadliest tornado in U.S. history.. Photo courtesy of the ‘Amarillo Globe-News’.
The reason the heart of the North American continent bears the brunt of these most powerful of twisters lies with its unique topography. Only in North America does a solid land mass stretch from the sub-tropics to the arctic with no mountain barriers to inhibit the mixture of air masses originating from these two regions.
THE DEADLIEST SINGLE TORNADOES, TORNADO OUTBREAKS, AND TORNADO YEARS IN U.S. HISTORY
The ‘single’ deadliest tornado in U.S. history was the famous ‘Tri-state’ twister of March 25, 1925 when 695 died in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana when a F-5 mile-wide monster carved a course some 219 miles through the three states. However, modern research suggests that this may well have been a series (or at least two) tornadoes developing from a single super cell traversing the area. Eight other violent (F-2 or stronger) tornadoes killed an additional 52 people in Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky over the course of the day bringing the total killed to 747 and making this also the deadliest tornado outbreak in American history.
Griffin, Indiana lies devastated following the passage of the Tri-state tornado on March 18, 1925. 71 people perished in the vicinity of Griffin. Photo from the National Archives.
The 2nd deadliest single tornado was that which struck Natchez, Mississippi on May 7, 1840 killing 317, many of the fatalities being along the town’s waterfront when the twister traversed the Mississippi River. The 2nd deadliest tornado outbreak was that of April 5-6, 1936 when 454 were killed across the Southeast from Arkansas to South Carolina. Tupelo, Mississippi was the worst affected where 216 were killed by a tornado on March 5th and Gainesville, Georgia where 203 lost their lives the following day. The April 27, 2011 event was the 4th deadliest on record and the Joplin, Missouri tornado of May 22, 2011 the 7th deadliest single tornado in U.S. history with 161 fatalities.
A map showing the tracks of the EF-4 and EF-5 tornados that ripped across the Southeast on April 27, 2011 killing 325. Map by Katie Wheatley based on Storm Prediction Center data.
Below are tables listing the 10 deadliest U.S. tornado outbreaks, 10 deadliest single tornadoes in U.S. history, and 10 deadliest years since 1875 so far as tornado fatalities in the U.S are concerned. Some of these figures are, to some degree, disputable and simply represent the best available information to date:
DEADLIEST TORNADOS AROUND THE WORLD
Environment Canada has concluded that the tornado that formed near Elie, Manitoba on June 22, 2007 was of EF-5 strength making it the only such storm of this violent nature to occur outside of the United States. Canada’s deadliest tornado event was that of June 30, 1912 when 28 were killed in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan. More recently, 27 died in and around Edmonton, Alberta on July 31, 1987 when a F-4 slammed the city.
The second deadliest tornado in Canadian history bears down on Edmonton, Alberta on July 31, 1987. Some believe this tornado may have reached F-5 strength at one point. Twenty-seven lives were lost. Photo by Robert Carlton, University of Alberta.
Other regions of the world that also experience very violent tornadoes (EF2-4 strength) fairly regularly (but to date no EF-5s) include the following:
Bangladesh has suffered the deadliest tornadoes on record and several of these have been estimated to be in the F-4 category of strength. The reason Bangladesh receives violent tornadoes is because during the beginning of the wet monsoon season (usually April and May) cold dry air spilling south over the Himalayan massif encounters deep tropical moisture streaming north from the Bay of Bengal. The ensuing violent thunderstorms produce not only tornadoes but also some of the largest hail ever observed (the heaviest single hailstone ever measured on earth weighed in at 2.25 pounds on April 14, 1986 during a storm in the Gopalanj District—unfortunately, the diameter of the stone was not noted).
A synoptic chart illustrating a day a tornado formed in Bangladesh during the spring of 2003.
The deadliest tornado in Bangladesh, and thus world, history (at least in modern records) was that which occurred on April 26, 1989. At least 1,300 deaths were reported from flattened villages in a region just north of the city of Dacca. On May 13, 1995 another 700 lives were lost in the city of Tangail as the result of a violent tornado. Four other tornado events have killed 500 or more people in Bangladesh since 1964 (on April 11, 1964, April 14, 1969, April 17, 1973, and April 1, 1977). In fact, at least 6,500 people have died from tornadoes in Bangladesh in the past 50 years. This list provides more details about these events (as well as a comprehensive review of world-wide tornados that have resulted in 100 or more fatalities).
Although tornadoes are relatively rare in South America Argentina has recorded some violent twisters that may have reached the F3-4 level of intensity as was the case on January 10, 1973 when 50-70 people were killed in the town of San Justo, Santa Fe State northwest of Buenos Aires.
Tornado expert Thomas Grazulis has speculated that Russia might receive the largest absolute number of tornadoes each year, following the United States, due to its vast size and “potential for small tornadoes”. Violent tornadoes, however, have been known to occur as was the case on June 9, 1984 when as many as 400 people were reported killed during an outbreak in a region 150-200 miles north of Moscow.
Violent tornadoes are extremely rare anywhere in Western Europe although many weak ones occur every year. The deadliest tornado in Western Europe’s history struck three textile and paper mills near Monville, France on August 19, 1845 killing at least 70 people. Sketchy reports of waterspouts coming ashore in the Mediterranean claim fatalities of 500 in Sicily in December 1851 and 600 killed in the Grand Harbour at Valetta, Malta on September 2, 1551. There seems to be few details concerning these events and uncertainty as to the actual dates of occurrence.
The only country in Africa to occasionally report a violent tornado is South Africa where powerful thunderstorms often erupt during the summer months of November through February. The deadliest tornado outbreak in the nation’s history was that of November 30-December 2, 1952 when 31 people were killed in the towns of Albertynesville and Paynesville near Johannesburg.
In Japan about 20 tornadoes, or tatsumaki (dragon whirls), are reported annually. These are most often associated with super cell thunderstorms that develop along the Pacific Coastline during the summer months. Weaker winter tornadoes (similar to those that affect the U.S. West Coast during winter storms) are also known to form. However, the strongest tornado in Japanese history was one of these winter ones which hit the coastal city of Mobara (20 miles southeast of Tokyo) on December 1, 1990. It was rated as a F-4 and destroyed over 1000 buildings and injured 100 people. There were no fatalities. The deadliest tornado in modern Japanese records killed 16 at an elementary school in Miyazaki city on September 26, 1881.
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
Australia reports about 20-25 tornadoes a year, the same number as New Zealand, and in both cases they are usually relatively weak. Occasionally they become strong enough to warrant an EF-3 rating. New Zealand’s deadliest tornado was that which struck the towns of Frankton and Hamilton in August 1948 killing three and injuring dozens. It was rated as a F-2 in intensity.
Australia’s deadliest twister was that of August 14, 1971 when three were killed at Kin Kin (a small community between Gympie and Noosa) in southern Queensland.
The Bucca, Queensland tornado of November 29,1992. The only F4 tornado so far officially reported in Australia. Photo courtesy of “Emergency Management Australia”.
The Top Ten Deadliest Tornado Outbreaks on Record in the World Since 1900
1. 1,300 fatalities in Bangladesh on April 26, 1989
2. 747 fatalities in the USA on March 18, 1925
3. 700 fatalities in Bangladesh on May 13, 1996
4. 681 fatalities in Bangladesh on April 17, 1973
5. 660 fatalities in Bangladesh on April 14, 1969
6. 500 fatalities in Bangladesh on April 4, 1964
7. 500 fatalities in Bangladesh on April 1, 1977
8. 454 fatalities in USA on April 5-6, 1936
9. 400 fatalities in Russia on June 9, 1984
10. 330 fatalities in USA on March 21-22, 1932
(the April 27, 2011 event resulted in 325 fatalities and thus would probably rank as the 11th deadliest tornado outbreak in the world since 1900).
Deadliest Tornado Outbreaks on Record by Continent Since 1900
1,300 fatalities in Bangladesh on April 26, 1989
747 fatalities in the USA on March 18, 1925
400 fatalities in Russia on June 9, 1984
70 fatalities in Argentina on January 10, 1973
3 fatalities on August 14, 1971
3 fatalities in New Zealand on August 25, 1948
REFERENCE: The single best reference work about tornadoes and tornado history is Thomas P. Grazulis’s masterpiece Significant Tornadoes: 1680-1991. A supplement to this was published bringing the data up to 1995. Unfortunately, no further editions have been published to cover the past 17 years although his web site has done so but only up to 1998.
KUDOS: Mark Stroud at Moon Street Cartography for the table of F-5 tornados 1900-2006.
Christopher C. Burt
Updated: 8:35 PM GMT on May 10, 2012
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.
Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.