Christmas 2015 Notable for Extreme Weather Throughout the US
By John Lawrence
Record high temperatures on Christmas day, as much as 30 degrees F above normal, were experienced up and down the eastern portion of the US. At the same time, tornadoes destroyed homes and lives in the nation’s midsection and south. December 2015 saw more than 2,600 record high temperatures; major metropolitan areas in the Northeast saw some of the warmest Christmas Eves and Days on record.
On Christmas Eve temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees higher than previous records. It was 71 F in New York City, and the same in Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
From 82 degrees in Savannah, Georgia, to 79 in Norfolk, Virginia, to 68 in Philadelphia, to 62 in Portland, Maine, cities up and down the East Coast tied or smashed record high temperatures for Christmas Day. Not only have the daytime temperatures been warm, but the nighttime lows in many locations have been running 10 degrees above the normal daily low temperature. Not only did the United States see record temperatures last month, but much of Europe is warm as well. It was nearly 50 degrees F in Moscow Christmas week, with puddles–not ice–surrounding the Kremlin.
Tornadoes, Flooding Kill At Least 43 in Southern US
While the East Coast enjoyed unseasonably warm weather, people in the south were suffering. In the Southeast, there were torrential rains and tornadoes. As of Christmas night, 15 deaths in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas had been linked to this severe weather, in addition to scores of injuries. The Mississippi Governor declared a State of Emergency. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area. Vehicles were mangled, power lines fell and trees were toppled. As many as 1450 homes were damaged or destroyed
The Governor of Alabama declared a State of Emergency as an EF-2 tornado swept through Birmingham with 130 mph winds. Flooding rains turned Alabama roads into rivers. 200 roads were closed. Two dozen tornadoes were recorded in three states in the south killing at least 18 people.
Christmas weekend at least 11 tornadoes swept through Dallas suburbs. Cars were swept off I-30. Dozens were injured. 29 people died from tornadoes in 5 states, triple the number of tornado-related deaths all year.
In Houston my friend, Gary Kane, reported a record total rainfall for the year of 84.43 inches, just beating 84.32 inches in 1979, which included a tropical storm named Claudett, which dumped 17 inches over night. The state of Texas, except for about 6%, is now considered out of any drought condition. In the 44 years that Gary has been measuring temps and rainfall, the average rainfall has been 52.73 inches. So last year (2015) rainfall was almost 32 inches above average. This was just for Gary’s house though, not the official tally.
In New Mexico snow was coupled with hurricane force wind gusts. A State of Emergency was declared. More than 200 car accidents in New Mexico injured more than 60 people. At the same time, a 1200 acre wildfire sparked by a downed power line was being fought in Ventura, CA.
Snowfall records, rainfall records, and severe weather records were happening simultaneously in the same state of Texas.
On Christmas day flash flood watches were in effect for parts of 16 states, from Texas in the West to Indiana and Ohio in the north to Virginia in the East.
EF-3 and EF-4 tornadoes were reported. The city of Garland, Texas was declared a disaster area. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made disaster declarations for four counties — Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and Ellis. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after blizzard conditions, ice storms and flooding caused by as much as 9 inches of rain were suffered there.
While St. Louis itself stayed mostly dry thanks to a floodwall, its suburbs were water-logged. The biggest problems came from the Meramec River — a tributary of the Mississippi — which at points topped the 1993 record flood level by 4 feet. Hundreds of homes and business were evacuated in Pacific, Eureka, Valley Park and Arnold, Missouri. Eleven levees failed. I-44 and I-55 were closed. Traffic was at a standstill. The flooding problems started after more than 10 inches of rain fell in an area spanning Illinois to Missouri. 22 people have died mostly in cars that were swept away. Wastewater plants were flooded out with the result that raw sewage washed into rivers.
In St. Louis the Mississippi floods at 30 feet. On December 30 it was brimming at 41.5. It was expected to go to 43, 13 feet above flood stage, the highest mark since 1993 when 100,000 homes were destroyed. Interstates were shut down. Sewage was being spewed into a fast moving river. Communities were being evacuated. Jay Nixon, Governor of Missouri called in the National Guard and declared a State of Emergency. 14 million Americans faced flood watches. In St. Louis it’s been the wettest year and wettest December on record.
Twelve Illinois counties have been declared disaster areas, and Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered Illinois National Guard troops into flooded areas in the southern part of the state to mitigate flood damage and help with evacuation efforts.
Midwest and plains states experienced snow, blizzards, gale force winds torrential rain and tornadoes all mixed in together in a melange of bad weather that put 75 million people in the path of danger. Travelers were left stranded as thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed.
As the month ended, flood waters continued to rise on the Mississippi. The water in Saint Louis was 12 feet above flood stage. The Meramec, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were all brimming threatening to overtop levees. Later the Meramec River crested shattering 18 records. More than 100,000 have been stranded on the road. States downstream were getting ready to absorb the huge amounts of water that flooded upstream states.
Weather women Dylan Dreyer and Karen Wetter were kept busy explaining why this El Niño has been so devastating and will only get worse. Anchorwoman Kate Snow observed that her name presaged more of that in the east.
82 Die in Floods Across Europe
Torrential rains across central Europe have led to the worst flooding in decades, claiming the lives of 82 people. At least 58 died in the Black Sea area, where thousands of Russian tourists were caught out by floodwaters that swept cars and tents out to sea.
Thousands of British tourists are being forced to cancel holidays amid the chaos. One of the worst-hit cities is Prague, where more than 50,000 people, including foreign visitors, were evacuated as the most devastating floods for more than a century threatened to engulf the Czech capital.
Soldiers and hundreds of volunteers worked building sandbag barriers. But as torrential rain continued to fall, a state of emergency was declared.
Parts of Mala Strana, the medieval area of the city center, were almost certain to be flood-damaged as the deluge forced dams on the river Vltava to open their gates. Prague has not seen the river as high since 1890 with estimates putting the water flow at 20 times the average for the time of year.
In Austria, Salzburg has been declared a disaster zone and Vienna is under threat. The Danube has been closed to all shipping as the river has swollen to a near 100-year high. Three people have been killed in towns near Salzburg. In the city itself 1,000 buildings were partially or totally submerged, and the sightseeing boat Amadeus sank. An emergency services spokesman in Upper Austria, where over three-quarters of the region is affected by flooding, said 8,000 workers and volunteers were ready to help evacuate residents.
Meanwhile in England
It was the warmest December on record and the wettest on record in Scotland and Wales.
An army company has helped build temporary flood defenses in Cumbria in the northwest of England as residents struggled with the winter storms nd heavy rains. That part of the country was still reeling from Storm Desmond earlier in December.
Environment Minister Rory Stewart called the rainfall in the flooded areas unprecedented. The Met Office, according to the Environment Agency, “confirmed this is the wettest December on record for Cumbria since records began in 1910.” More than 7,300 homes were flooded across the north of England as river levels reached record highs.
December has been a record-breaking month for rainfall other in parts of the United Kingdom as well. A Christmas weekend storm brought up to 8 inches of additional rainfall on saturated soil. The Met Office listed just a small portion of the December rainfall records that were set Christmas weekend, in some cases blowing away the previous December records by 10 inches.
However, there is already clear evidence that what has happened over the past month or so in terms of temperature and rainfall has fallen outside the range of the natural variability of the notoriously fickle British weather, according to a growing number of climate experts.
“There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is partly responsible for the flooding across the North of England. This December is around 5 C warmer than normal and physics tells us that 24-hour extreme rainfall increases by 7 percent per degree,” said Piers Forster, professor of climate science at Leeds University.
South America Floods
More than 150,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in areas of Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina after floods due to heavy summer rains caused by El Niño, authorities said. In Paraguay, which was the hardest-hit, more than 130,000 people were evacuated. In Alberdi city, residents fled as walls holding back water appeared on the verge of collapse, authorities said. Argentina had 20,000 evacuees, half of them from Concordia city.
The floods, caused by overflowing rivers and torrential rains blamed on the El Niño phenomenon, have been responsible for at least eight deaths: six in Paraguay and two in Uruguay. The Paraguay River in that nation is within inches of topping its banks, and the Uruguay River in Argentina is 46 feet above normal, according to a BBC News report.
Authorities are preparing to cope with the possibility of diseases spreading – heightened by the fact that mosquitos and snakes thrive in swamp-like conditions. Overflowing sewers have also caused homes to have dirty running water.
Fires in Australia at Christmas
At the same time when many were enjoying a warm Christmas on the East coast and many others were suffering from tornadoes in the south, on the other side of the world in Australia, 116 homes were burning in Victoria. It’s fire season in Australia at Christmas time.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the bushfires a catastrophe, estimating initial insurance losses of $25 million. Some relief was forthcoming from the state’s coffers. Victorian Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett said the relief grants would help locals get back on their feet as fast as possible. “It has been devastating for these communities at Christmas time, which is why we are making sure people have the support they need,” she said.
The Wrap-up for 2015
2015 was the hottest year on record. There were more extreme weather incidents than any other year. While El Niñohas been getting a lot of press, the El Niño was made much more severe by global warming.
Extreme heat killed more than 1200 people in Pakistan and 2500 in India. Many died because the power and air conditioning went off at peak heat periods when it was needed most. Heat waves also affected Iraq and Iran. Typhoons rocked the Philippines. High temperatures in Alaska made for the hottest May on record. Myanmar and Ghana experienced record flooding. Droughts in California, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Brazil set records. Temperatures at the North Pole were 50 degrees F above normal in December surging above the freezing point of 32 degrees.
Scientists at Oxford University have started work on a scientific model they hope will enable them to establish or rule out links between climate change and extreme weather more quickly. “We want to clear up the huge amounts of confusion around how climate change is influencing the weather, in both directions,” Dr Friederike Otto, of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, said.