The year 2016 certainly had its share of significant weather events both here in the United States and in other areas around the world. From winter storms to severe weather outbreaks to tropical cyclone activity (Atlantic & Pacific), we definitely saw some amazing, yet costly events unfold. In this article, we will share our Carolina Weather Group panelist choices for significant local, regional, national and at last one global event with a few details about each one.
We'll start in chronological order, with CWG panelist David Reese up first:
January 2016 Blizzard(also known unofficially as "Snowzilla 2016"/ "Winter Storm Jonas")
For me, there were a couple of weather events that stuck out in my mind when we decided to do this. Number one on that list was the January 22-23 snowstorm. It takes the top spot on my list due to the impressive amount of snow it dropped on its way from the Southeast through the Northeast.
Models started alerting us the weekend before the event. We vividly remember watching computer models throughout the week as a strong trough of low pressure was forecast to go negative (dipping southwards), thus giving us a nice coastal storm. The biggest thing we needed to workout was whether the crazy snow totals, that showed 20-30” in some model runs, were legitimate enough to notify the public for potentials. As the week wore on, the answer to that question quickly became yes, it is going to be possible to get 20” of snow with this storm.
This area of low pressure originated in Central Texas and trekked across the southeast to northern Georgia; that’s when a new coastal low formed off the South Carolina coastline. It was this transfer of energy from the original low to the new low coupled with an optimal jet stream pattern that allowed this coastal low to strengthen as it rolled up the Eastern Seaboard. In the end, this storm brought severe weather to portions of the southeast and blizzard conditions to Martha’s Vineyard...and a ton of snow in between.
Locally in Charlottesville, VA, by the time we woke up on Saturday Jan 23, we had accumulated anywhere from 17-22” of snow. Snow was reported as far south as Mobile and northern Florida with Georgia mountains picking up 8” of snow and the inland Carolinas with 1-5” of snow in many spots. The huge jackpot, though, was the D.C. to NYC corridor as many locations experienced all-time record snowfall amounts with a single storm.
This storm produced the most snow this Florida boy had ever seen in his life at one time. It was certainly a fun experience and I learned a ton about forecasting big winter storms, the local climatology, and how previous experience is crucial to getting a forecast correct around here.
"NC and Northeast TN saw their fair shares of severe weather in 2016, but one system really stands out to me. On July 8th, a strong cold front produced a line of thunderstorms which would go racing into the TN and NC mountains. A small derecho (by classification of US National Weather Service Morristown) formed with winds of 60-80 mph. The result was downed trees, power lines, and the deaths of two people who were camping on Watauga Lake.
Here is a hair-raising video from Lake Watauga during that event:
The winds, so strong, they caused damage that looked worse than some strong tornadoes in terms of tree damage. It’s my thoughts that the winds were accelerated some through the valleys, funneled by the hills (Venturi effect). This enhanced wind damage in spots. For many, it was the worst and most widespread storm damage they had seen in several years.
Ricky standing under a large uprooted tree.
The line of storms would continue past the mountains into the Triad and I-77 Corridor, causing even more wind damage.
The 2016 weather event that stood out the most to me was the flooding rains that struck Louisiana the weekend of August 16-18. Some scientists described the storm as a 500 year rain event with some areas receiving over 20 inches of rain. Over 146,000 homes were damaged and 13 people lost their lives due to flooding. It is estimated that this event dropped 3 times as much rain as Hurricane Katrina.
According to JR Ball's article in NOLA.com written on September 16th: "The Louisiana Flood of 2016 killed 13 people, displaced tens of thousands of others, caused an estimated $8.7 billion in damage and destroyed some 60,000 houses. Gov. John Bel Edwards is requesting $2.8 billion in federal recovery money, and more than 73,000 households across 20 parishes have been approved for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid." His article suggests development and suburban growth into these historically known flood prone areas as a major concern. http://www.nola.com/news/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2016/09/louisiana_flood_of_2016_develo.html
Via USDA: A view from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter shows flooding and devastation in Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 15, 2016. U.S. service members have rescued residents and provided relief. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake
YouTube video via NOLA.com:
Though the event itself was significant from a meteorological standpoint, I think the number one takeaway from this event was the reaction of the people from Louisiana. Talking with close friends who were effected by the storm, it quickly became a realization that the forecast, or the fact that this was not a named storm, meant nothing to them. When they saw their neighbors in danger, they sprung into action. You can't talk to any local without mention of the now famous Cajun Navy. An ragtag group of individuals who, with no leadership or government accreditation, became the saviors of the community. Ordinary, I use that term lightly, citizens that banded as one to pluck their neighbors from rooftops and flooded homes all across the area. In this crisis, they were the true heroes of the storm.
Even the US Coast Guard took their War Eagle johnboats into the flooded areas to help out. Pic courtesy of USCG.
"This event will be something studied over and over by meteorologist across the world, but what made it my event of 2016 was the strong social and community outreach that showed us how the Cajun people respond to a disaster. They ban together to help their neighbors in their time of need, and they will continue to help each other until they are back to normal, or as normal as they were before. The people of Louisiana are a salty bunch, even though the storm left great devastation across their land, they'll be just fine, and they will come back just as good, or better, than before. Because that's what they do. That's who they are."
Life Cycle: August 28, 2016 to September 6, 2016
By CWG panelist Peter Planamente
The storm that was most significant for me, in 2016, would have to be Hurricane Hermine. Before Hermine, Florida hadn’t seen a land-falling hurricane in over a decade. Hermine had a very long trek across the Atlantic starting August 18th, and slowly made its way into the Gulf of Mexico (in what seemed like the world's longest "Invest" period as 99L). There, it began northward movement and strengthened into a Category One just before making landfall over the Florida panhandle on September 2nd.
Full track of Hermine up to landfall provided by The Weather Channel.
NHC 9/1/16 10AM track showing their forecast for a hurricane just before a Sept 2 landfall, which was confirmed.
Pic provided from Shea Gibson via WeatherFlow's Wind Alert product of Cat 1 Hermine making its way into the FL panhandle.
After Florida, it began weakening while traveling through the Southeastern states of Georgia and South Carolina. Folks were impacted with heavy downpours, flooding and tropical storm force winds.
Radar screenshot from Peter Planamente
What I remember most from this storm was that Hermine was supposed to have a major impact for the Jersey Shore over the Labor Day Weekend. After moving off the coast of Virginia, it was forecast to move out to sea but eventually get hooked back towards Delaware, New Jersey and Long Island. The scenario obviously didn’t play out, but if it did, the coast could have seen significant impacts from water and wind.
Many local meteorologists received backlash, through social media, for hyping up the storm. People canceled their plans to enjoy the unofficial end of summer at the Shore (NJ). The Labor Day Weekend remained cloudy and chilly with only occasional showers in the area. Hermine did stall out by New Jersey for a few days after Labor Day, but was far enough away for no significant impacts other than clouds and showers.
Post Tropical Cyclone Hermine lingering off the coast of the NE USA on September 5th Image from weather.mfsa.nasa.gov
Therefore, I always tell people “watch and wait when significant storms are possible.” You never know when something can change course last minute.
Significant Impacts - mainly rainfall amounts and storm surge related:
--> Even as an invest (Invest 99L), parts of Cuba received in excess if 12 inches of rain in a 36 hour period.
--> 22.36 inches at Lake Tarpon Canal, Florida ...extended to show ~13.34" of rain along Cedar Island, NC. --> 6.1 foot storm surge occurred along Cedar Key, FL
Meranti was the most powerful cyclone world wide for 2016. According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Winds peaked 165kts (190mph) for a 1-minute average, with gusts to 230mph and pressure that dropped to 890mb's. The JMA (Japanese Meteorological Association had it at 140mph for a 10-minute sustained period for avg). Meranti made landfall over Batanes in the far northern Philippine islands at peak strength,then continued onward to hit southern Taiwan and ultimately into the Fujian and Zhejiang provinces of China.
Here is the track provided through digital-typhoon.org showing the September dates in the colored circles
Here is a YouTube loop I created from Sept 9 - Sept 13 of Meranti using Himawari imaging via digitaltyphoon.org - very impressive
This quickly became a very memorable picture of the island of Itbayat totally engulfed inside of the large and powerful eyewall of Super Typhoon Meranti. Amazingly, no casualties were reported!
Hurricane Matthew started off the African coast as a tropical wave on Sept 22 and slowly gathered as a tropical storm as it approached the Lesser Antilles. Once it moved firmly into the central Caribbean Sea, Matthew underwent rapid intensification and developed into a Category 5 storm while drifting north. Pressure dropped to 925 millibars and winds peaked at 160mph (one minute sustained) with gusts to 225mph. During its northward movement and increasing momentum, Matthew delivered its most catastrophic blow to western Haiti (550+ deaths), with several other fatalities reported on other Caribbean islands in its path and ultimately up into the United States (49 deaths).
Category 5 Hurricane Matthew making landfall over western Haiti on October 4, 2016.
It's first land fall was along the Tiburon Peninsula of Haiti, and then a 2nd landfall along Juaco, Cuba as a Cat 4 storm, made its way through the Bahamas ...and continued northwards to scrape the SE coast.
Track provided by Weather Underground
A couple of the many images out of Haiti showing destruction of homes that left many homeless.
Here is Matthew as it intensified again to a Cat 4 over warmer waters just before scraping Florida. It would quickly downgrade from Category 4 status to Cat 2 status while heading north off the coast near Daytona to Jacksonville with dry air wrapping into it from the west ...and while moving over cooler shelf waters.
Matthew made its final landfall just north of Charleston, SC in McClellanville as a Category 1 storm with winds at 85mph...and then swung ENE across southeastern NC and out to sea.
This is a time lapse YouTube video via Amazing Space showing the GOES 13 capture from Haiti/Cuba and northwards into the SE USA.
And a more detailed YouTube analysis I pulled from from RAMMB RAMSDIS. It's a bit choppy from day to night, but shows the convective features in more depth.
The severe flooding Matthew caused over many areas was also enhanced over the coastal plains of northern SC and into southeast NC, which resulted in lasting floods for weeks after the storm had passed.
--> Death Toll: 600-1500 (higher number unconfirmed, at least ~550 in Haiti alone, with post storm diseases responsible for even more unaccounted deaths)
--> Total Cost in Damages: 10.5 - 12.5 Billion
--> Widespread flooding along SC/SENC with some areas seeing 7" on rain per hour. Section of I-95 and I-40 were closed from flooding and multiple on-site rescues were performed. Many areas remained flooded 4-6 weeks after Matthew had passed.
--> Its total Accumulative Cyclone Energy (ACE) was a staggering 48.4675, giving it just over 1/3 of all the Atlantic basin cyclone energy for the entire season. Total for the North Atlantic was 138.127. Again a special thank you to WeatherBell Analytics for these numbers (Dr. Ryan N. Maue).
Looking back on 2016, there are many weather events that come to mind. Hurricane Matthew and Hermine, massive flooding events throughout the country, and watching an EF-4 tornado strike Katie, Oklahoma. But the weather event that stood out most to me this past year was an event caused by the lack of weather altogether.
The Southeast United States has been very dry and we continue to remain in drought status for most locales. Several strong Atlantic ridges of high pressure have dominated our weather pattern to act as blocking patterns from cold fronts being able to draw moisture through the region up from the Gulf of Mexico. Besides rainfall on Oct 7th & 8th from Hurricane Matthew, many locations in western North Carolina and the Upstate of South Carolina saw over 40 days in a row without any measurable rainfall - and very little rain continues to be the case through present. Much of Western North Carolina and the Upstate of South Carolina remain in varying drought stages. During the peak drought stage on Nov 29, the North Carolina Forest Service even issued a burning ban for 47 North Carolina Counties as well as 19 counties in South Carolina. Burn bans event went as far as the coast. But things got worse....
Numerous wildfires popped up throughout western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, northern GA and eastern Tennessee/Kentucky. Twenty wildfires occurred in North and South Carolina alone, burning over 75,000 acres. Some of the biggest fires were the Party Rock Fire in Rutherford County, NC, the Tellico Fire in Macon County, NC, Chestnut Knob Fire in Burke County, NC, Clear Creek Fire in McDowell County, NC and the Pinnacle Mountain Fire in Pickens County, SC.
These fires not only scorched tens of thousands of acres of land, but created Air Quality Issues all throughout the Carolinas as winds often shifted in various directions. Even though wildfires weren’t anywhere close to Central North Carolina or Coastal South Carolina, the prevailing winds were blowing the smoke plume well outside of the torched areas in the western part of the Carolinas - even well out over the Atlantic!
Here is the sun upstate NC being obscured by wildfire smoke...
And all the way to the coast in Charleston, SC (Pic By Bën Roth on the Ravenel Bridge).
This even caused "superfog" to occur where naturally occurring dense coastal fog blended with the smoke to create very low visibility over the water and on land.
Pic by Captain Jamie Brown on November 16th in the Charleston Harbor, SC facing the Ravenel Bridge.
You can see via this NASA WorldView image on November 16th how extensive the spread of smoke was, which even became caught up in Sea Breeze circulations along the coast that stretched from southern GA through the OBX and into the Mid Atlantic.
On numerous days, Air Quality Action Days were in place for both states. Code Orange and Code Red days were common for a few weeks. Some areas closest to the fires had Code Purple Days, which is the top of the scale.
Living 15 miles from the Chestnut Knob fire, I witnessed firsthand how thick the smoke was and how hard it was to breathe. Not only was the smoke thick, but temps skyrocketed into the 70’s and 80’s. Some days the smoke was so thick it would lead you to think it was dark outside.
Pic by Scotty Powell in McDowell County, NC of the Clear Creek Fire
Here is a pic from John Cayton of the Party Rock fire as seen from the Batcave Baptist Church on November 28th.
And we cannot forget what happened in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee on November 28th. This is where some of the most rapidly spreading fires occurred and at least 12 lives were lost with 191 treated for fire related injuries.
Pic by Bruce McCamish
Pic by Bruce McCamish overlooking Dollywood's DreamMore Resort
Summary: Numerous firefighters from all over the country came to help extinguish the fires. All of us in Western North Carolina are extremely thankful for their help! So as I look back at 2016, the wildfires and drought will be what comes to mind for me.
As we close the year 2016, we have learned quit a bit from these events. Heading into 2017, we hope to learn more as technology continues to advance and our resources become stronger. We are, after all, always students of weather and climate.
Stay safe in 2017!
~Carolina Weather Group
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