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July-August 2011

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The Top U.S. Weather Events of the Twentieth Century—Part I


Since the start of this century, meteorologists, climatologists, and others have been trying to decide which storms and/or other weather events of the 20th century stood out at the very top. A number of years ago, Weatherwise itself polled many of its regular contributors for their opinions, which resulted in a list of 10 extraordinary events. In order of importance they were:

  1. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s

  2. The Super Tornado Outbreak of 1974

  3. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

  4. The “Superstorm” of 1993

  5. The Tri-State Tornado Outbreak of 1925

  6. Hurricane Andrew (1992)

  7. Hurricane Camille (1969)

  8. The Mississippi Flood of 1927

  9. The El Niño episode of 1997–1998;

  10. The New England Hurricane of 1938, sometimes referred to as the “Long Island Express”

In this article, through the prism of modern meteorological insights, I will revisit some of the above events, as well as others now recognized by NOAA scientists as the leading 20th century U.S. weather events. I will do this by using original and recent eye-witness accounts and publications. However, since NOAA didn't prioritize them, I won't attempt to do that either. Instead, I will discuss them chronologically, as NOAA listed them. But you, our valued readers, may wish to prioritize them by visiting our Website. To qualify, the event must have taken place primarily within U.S. borders.

DON LIPMAN is a weather speaker, journalist, and historian. After retiring from a career in the U.S. intelligence community, he began doing weather presentations on cruise ships and at senior centers. Currently, he is also a freelance writer for The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang.

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