As I write this in mid-February, the crocuses and daffodils are determinedly breaking their way through the soil and blossoming in the unseasonable warmth here in Washington, D.C. It's been an incredibly mild winter and, despite Phil the Groundhog's prognostication on February 2, all signs point to an early spring. But as all weather enthusiasts know, one mild winter does not necessarily mean the mild weather will continue, and as we head into tornado season, many of us wait with bated breath to see what spring will bring.
This issue we bring you the 2011 Almanac, in which we look back on last year's weather and consider the highs, lows, and everything in between. There can be little argument that last year was a year of extreme weather, particularly for those who track tornadoes. Last spring saw one of the deadliest, most destructive seasons in history for tornadoes. As of this writing, 550 people lost their lives to 59 killer tornadoes in 2011, making it the fourth-deadliest year for tornadoes in recorded history. On April 27, a record-breaking 200 tornadoes led to 316 fatalities—a new modern record for tornado deaths in a single day. On May 22, the most destructive tornado in United States history struck Joplin, Missouri, causing an estimated $2 to $3 billion in damages and 158 direct fatalities.
There is little doubt that the events of those two days will be remembered for years to come, but those were not the only big events of the year. In fact, 2011 saw a record 14 weather-related disasters that resulted in more than a billion dollars in damages each (see “2011's Billion-Dollar Disasters: Is Climate Change to Blame?” by Jeff Masters in the March/April 2011 Weatherwise for more on this topic). As related by Douglas LeComte in this issue, in “U.S. Weather Highlights of 2011: Unparalleled Weather Extremes,” heat, drought, and flooding in the United States also reached billion-dollar levels.
Once hurricane season began, more extreme weather events occurred, with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee inundating the Eastern Seaboard and combining to create a very wet fall, as related by Lixion A. Avila and Stacy Stewart in “Atlantic Hurricanes 2011: All About Irene and Lee.”
Meanwhile, there was no shortage of weather action in the rest of the world. In “The Eastern North Pacific Hurricanes: An Average Season,” by Eric S. Blake and Todd B. Kimberlain, we see how hurricanes Beatriz and Jova affected the southwestern coast of Mexico, and in “International Weather Highlights for 2011—Flood and Famine,” Douglas LeComte relates the stories of flood and famine in Australia and East Africa, respectively.
Only time will tell what the rest of 2012 will bring in terms of extreme weather. Chances are the events won't be quite as extreme as those of 2011, but those of us who make it our business—or at least our hobby—to know the weather will doubtless keep our eyes on the sky in anticipation of the next big event.
Letter to the Editor
My November/December 2011 issue of Weatherwise has an article called “A Glimpse into a Changing Climate.” I have never been a fan of the NWS's 30 year normal, particularly the last 30 years. Many stations now are ASOSs [Automated Surface Observing System] at airports. ASOSs were never put in for climate studies, but for pilot safety. Most are next to asphalt or concrete runways and taxiways. Temperature data are recorded 10 or more feet off the ground, not the standard five and one-half feet found in CRS instrument shelters and a requirement in the “olden” days from the NWS. I do studies of many ASOS stations, and I have found a huge difference in temperature data leaning toward the warm side, particularly the minimum. I think all records that are acquired by an ASOS system should have an asterisk beside them.
--Bob Gregg, Glendale, California