From the ABC 7 Weather team

Is the weather really more “extreme” these days?

April 21, 2012 - 05:00 AM
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Day-after-day it seems you hear of weather records being shattered but how “extreme” really is our weather?

We can often forget those events that happened years ago unless they were epic, deadly or destructive. One thing stands out for sure though – it seems we are bombarded by records we hear on a day-to-day basis. Is there a reason for this?

Since the start of 2011 it seems we have been clobbered with weather statistics but for good reason….there were so many of them! A record 14 weather and climate disasters in 2011 each caused $1-billion or more in damages. What were these disasters? There were so many of them, including the Central U.S. tornado outbreaks in April, the historical Southern Plains drought and heat wave, record flooding along the Mississippi and two events that impacted the D.C. region; Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm’s Lee remnant rainfall.

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(Story Image: Hurriane Irene makes landfall in New York City. Courtesy of NOAA)

2012 is already in the record books for heat! The first quarter of the year was the warmest on record east of the Mississippi River, including right here in D.C., with more than 15,000 warm temperature records busted in March alone in the U.S.! In addition, the early March tornado outbreak in the Central U.S. was the year’s first billion dollar disaster.

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“Subtle” records have gone unnoticed, however. Did you know it has been a record number of days since the last major landfalling hurricane along the U.S. Coast? Roger Pielke, Jr., professor of Environmental Studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colo., noted in a blog late last year that as of December 14, 2011 there had been 2,232 days since a Category 3 or higher ranked hurricane made landfall in the U.S.

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(Story Image Source: http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-us-hurricane-record.html)

With this in mind, we seem to find so many ways to “make” weather records. Given the wealth of weather data compiled at weather service offices and ability to store this information on computers, it’s easy to crank out weather statistics such as “the wettest January-March period” or “the number of consecutive days with temperatures at or above a certain degree.”

Therefore, while it appears we have so many extremes in our daily weather, we have more resources, more weather spotters and storm chasers to track severe weather and more efficient and faster ways of calculating records. It’s easy today to push the numbers through the computer and, for instance, find out the record number of consecutive days a city has gone without measureable rainfall for any given month or length of time (season, for instance) and identify it as a statistic to compare future dry periods!

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