Top Ten Weather Events of 2012


We begin our countdown with an event just a few days old. A strong storm system brought two types of weather warnings to the Southern United States on Christmas. A significant winter storm blanketed Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kentucky with Little Rock receiving nearly a foot of snow. Along the Gulf Coast, 26 tornadoes touched down. Mississippi and Alabama were the hardest hit with a large twister passing through the city of Mobile. There were no fatalities because of the tornadoes (likely because of coverage by media and the National Weather Service). Two people were killed in Louisiana and Texas because of the severe storms. At least one death was blamed on icy weather in Oklahoma. Here is surveillance video from a Walgreens store near Mobile, Alabama. Note the people standing in front of the doors. That tops the list of things NOT to do during a tornado.

Supercells spawned several tornadoes in one day in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex on April 3rd. 22 tornadoes in all with damage estimates more than $1Billion. There were no fatalities. Most memorable were the tractor-trailers hurled hundreds of feet into the air on live TV. Here is how WFAA-TV covered the storm.

Even though the first two stories in our top ten list were because of tornado outbreaks, 2012 as a whole is being studied for its lack of tornado reports. One of the main reasons for the lack of storms was a persistent ridge of high pressure, one that caused all-time high temperatures to be broken across much of the Central Plains. Early in the year, many thought 2012 would become a record breaking year for tornadoes, but the strong ridge that developed in the summer prevented any significant systems from moving through the country. Click on the graph to see how 2012 started on a very stormy note, but ended once the high pressure-show stopper moved in.

When you think of big weather events in Northern Minnesota, you immediately think of snow, not floods. In 2012, our #7 story comes from Duluth where a persistent complex of thunderstorms dropped 9 inches of rain on the city in just over 24 hours. Because much of the city lies on the side of a hill (that slopes into Lake Superior), the torrents caused city streets to become raging rivers, washing out cars, and even the roads themselves! The city’s zoo was inundated causing many animals (the seal pictured here) to escape from their enclosures. In addition, millions of dollars in books were destroyed at the University of Wisconsin-Superior library. Click here to read more and see pictures of the recovery effort there.

The deadliest tornado outbreaks of 2012 occurred between February 29th and March 3rd. Harrisburg, Illinois was struck by an EF-4 tornado that killed at least 7, injuring dozens more.

The twister came into the city shortly after 4AM, an unusual time for such a strong tornado. Earlier in the night, the same system spawned a powerful tornado that damaged the popular tourist area of Branson, Missouri. States affected included Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee. 15 people were killed in the outbreak on February 28/29. However, a worse outbreak would occur just days later when 40 people died March 2nd and 3rd. Areas around Louisville and Cincinnati saw significant damage with 22 people killed in Kentucky alone. In New Pekin, Indiana, a 15-month-old toddler was swept out of the arms of her parents during a tornado. The baby was found alive in a field by first responders. After intensive care, the baby died, along with her parents and two siblings.

Every spring, forecasters around the country get praise for producing their hurricane forecasts. However, it takes only one hurricane making landfall in a populated area to do extreme amounts of damage. There are two tropical systems on our list this year. Coming in at number 5 is Hurricane Isaac. Nine people were killed as Isaac made landfall as a category 1 hurricane near the Mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana on August 28th.

Because the storm moved so slow once it made landfall, extreme flooding occurred in Southern Mississippi and Northern Louisiana. Evacuations of entire towns took place because dams were threatened by unprecedented high water. Isaac did $2.3 Billion in damage killing 42 in the Carribbean and the U.S.

In early July, an orange sky filled the skies over Colorado Springs, Colorado for several nights as forest fires raged out of control. Whole neighborhoods in Waldo Canyon were burned to the ground as thousands of acres burned uncontrollably for several days in what would become Colorado’s worst wildfire in history. (Click on the image above to view in full-screen mode.) Other fires burned in the mountains above Denver for several days.

Residents in every state of the country will remember 2012 for its abnormal weather. From a  significant drought, devastating fires, a lack of storm systems, and blazing heat. This was an extreme year. In the contiguous United States, 2012 was off the charts when it came to warmth. This graph shows how 2012 couldn’t even be compared to another year.

All-time record temperatures were set in the Plains with consecutive 110°+ days in Oklahoma. For the first time in history, March was warmer than April in many cities (including Rockford). Records were set nationally with the United States recording the warmest March ever. July 2012 was the warmest month in United States history!

The number two story on our list encompassed the most land area of the United States. And even though our thoughts of drought wane during the winter, it will continue well into 2013. Not only were the Plains baking in July, there wasn’t a drop of water to be found for weeks on end. Lakes and rivers almost dried up completely, including river levels locally that hadn’t been seen in a generation.

Here is a look at how severe the drought remains as we head into 2013. It is important to receive snow and rain during the winter season as it replenishes the soils with moisture and nutrients. This is essential to alleviate worse conditions in the following growing season. The significance of the drought (as it is today) couldn’t be corrected by rain and snow unless the pattern shifted to above-normal precipitation for a period of 1-3 months.

The 2012 drought may rival Superstorm Sandy as the most costly natural disaster of the year with damage estimates ranging between $75-150 Billion. According to Deutsche Bank Securities, the drought will be responsible for a 0.5 to 1 percent drop in U.S. gross domestic product in 2012, adding insult to injury when it comes to a struggling economy.

(Click image for a fullscreen view of how the superstorm moved a beach a half mile into a neighborhood). A hurricane, the likes of which no one living has ever seen, struck the United States in late October. Hurricane Warnings were posted for the Bahamas a week earlier as Hurricane Sandy unleashed wind and waves onto the island chain as a category one hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Computer model forecasts were ominous, paralleling the Carolina coast with a sharp left-hand turn occurring with rapid intensification into New Jersey and New York City. Not only were Meteorologists mesmerized at the forecast, many wondered how it could even occur. However, two days before landfall, an unusually strong high pressure ridge developed over the maritime provinces of Canada. This, in effect, steered Sandy to the west, slamming it into the coast on October 22nd.

What made this an unprecedented storm was the interaction with a non-tropical low pressure system coming in from the northwest. This caused the storms to hybridize as landfall occurred making it a superstorm. The terminology was new to Americans, but the aftermath was all too real.

Superstorm Sandy caused many to wonder if climate change was to blame. It is this Meteorologist’s view that Sandy was not caused by climate change; instead it was amped up by warmer water. In addition, global warming has caused sea level to rise in the past 20 years which increased the damage along the coastline from the storm surge.

The coastline of New Jersey was forever changed as the surge destroyed entire pieces of the sandy shore. A large fire raged out of control on New York’s Long Island, causing an entire neighborhood in Breezy Point to burn to the ground. Much of New York City saw power outages with a significant number of subway tunnels inundated.

When Hurricane Sandy approached the Carolinas, I commented privately that the wind field and storm surge forecast could become a Katrina-like disaster. While Sandy never got a sustained wind higher than 110mph, it produced a wind in a much larger area of the coast. Because of that, the conditions caused 253 people to lose their lives. As of this writing, damage estimates have surged to $65.5 Billion making it the second costliest hurricane in United States history, behind Katrina.

Click here to review the top ten weather stories of 2011.
Click here to review the top ten weather stories of 2010.
Click here to review the top ten weather stories of 2009.


Posted under weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 31, 2012

Cold New Year

Looking back on 2012, we saw some well above average temperatures. Record highs were set with 80 degree days in March and 100 degree days in July. That didn’t leave a lot of room for colder weather, especially weather as cold as the teens for highs. As a matter of fact, we had only two days where high temperatures dipped into the teens. The last time it happened was way back on January 20th. We bring in this new year staring a 14° high temperature in the face tomorrow. More cold air sits after tomorrow as well with three straight days in the low 20s. A much different trend that what 2012 brought us. -Greg


Posted under cold blast, event, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 31, 2012

December 30, 2012 Low Temps

Early Sunday morning—December 30, 2012—was very cold across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.  The mercury officially dipped into the single digits for the first time in 10 months in Rockford!  February 11, 2012 was the last time we were in the single digits.


Another interesting tidbit of information is the fact that Rockford has not fallen below zero in almost 2 years!  February 10, 2011 was the last time that happened.  Temperatures were extremely frigid that morning with a low of -20 degrees!

Given the forecast, temperatures are not expected to fall below zero on New Years Eve.  That will mark only the second time in recorded history where temperatures have remained above zero for an entire year!  The only other time this has happened in Rockford was just ten years ago in 2002!



Posted under 13 Climate Authority, record weather, statistics, weather, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 30, 2012

Say it Ain’t Snow

Even though December 2012 has been wetter than normal—Rockford’s picked up 2.49 inches of precipitation—we are in a snow drought.  While some parts of the area have picked up more than 1 foot of snow, the observation site at Chicago Rockford International Airport has only picked up a paltry 2.1 inches of the white stuff!  Now while it is true that some areas of the Forest City have picked up 3 to 5 inches of snow this season, Rockford’s official climate report is based from data at the airport.  With that in mind, we should have already picked up 12.4 inches of snow this season.  We are 10.3 inches behind in snowfall at the airport as of December 29th.

Just 80 miles to our west in Dubuque, Iowa, over 19 inches of snow has fallen this season. And 65 miles north of Rockford lies Madison.  Wisconsin’s Capital City has picked up nearly 2 feet of snow this season!  These two cities were in the track of storm systems which favored snow, whereas Rockford, Chicago, and Milwaukee were in the transition zone / warm sector of many of the same weather systems.  That resulted in significantly less snowfall accumulation.

Even Little Rock, Arkansas—which has less than a 5% chance of a ‘White Christmas’—picked up 10.3 inches of snow on December 25th!  For the foreseeable future, there are very few chances for snowfall accumulation through the first week of 2013.  A system on New Year’s Eve will brush by the area to the south.  A few light snow showers are possible, especially along the I-88 corridor (Sterling, Dixon, Rochelle, DeKalb, and points south).  An area of high pressure with a dry north wind will erode most of the moisture and keep much of northern Illinois free from snow accumulation.  Parts of southern Illinois will likely see a minor accumulating snow on New Year’s Eve.



Posted under 13 Climate Authority, snow, statistics, weather, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 29, 2012

Friday Night: Slick Driving

Watch for slick spots as freezing drizzle continues to fall in the Stateline. We have received numerous reports of icy roads leading to rollover accidents. Use caution, slow down, and allow yourself plenty of room to maneuver! If you have anything to report, send me a tweet!


Posted under safety, weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 28, 2012

The comet of the century?

As a kid, I vividly remember the awe and wonder surrounding Halley’s Comet which floated through the sky in 1986. I had posters, special commemorative Matchbox cars, and tons of magazines. The thought I would get to see a comet, not visible for another 75 years fueled that wonder.

Now, a new group of astronomers have discovered a comet that some say could be brighter than the moon! Here’s what “Ison” looked like in September…barely noticeable! It’s still very far off, beyond the orbit of Jupiter. But by November 2013, it will be close enough to possibly become the brightest thing in the night sky!

Ison will pass 1.1 million miles from the sun’s surface. As it buzzes through, the comet’s chunks of rock and ice will be heated, reflecting the light from the sun. By late autumn, Ison will be viewable in the sky in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. There’s a chance Ison could break up and burn apart as it nears the sun, but if it doesn’t, it could illuminate our sky into January 2014.

If Ison wasn’t enough to spark your comet-interest, another comet called “2014 L4” was discovered in 2011. It could light up the skies in March and April.


Comet Lovejoy is reflected in the water near Perth, Australia on December 21, 2011. Image Credit: Colin Legg.


Posted under science, space

This post was written by qni_it on December 28, 2012

What Makes Packing Snow?

In the eyes of a child, one of the greatest joys of the winter season is playing in the snow. I think just about all of us can remember the first time (the last time) we made a snowman. Yet, not every snowfall leaves us with snow that is capable of bringing Frosty to life. Some snow, regardless of how much we get, just won’t pack and stick together. There is a simple reason for this… the snow literally isn’t “sticky”. That non-packing snow forms when we see a snowfall during very cold temps that are well below freezing. We are talking about temperatures in the low to mid teens. There is less moisture in the atmosphere at these temperatures so the snow flakes tend to be small and almost “dry”. On the other hand, wet packing snow is seen when it snow with a temperature closer to freezing (32°). At these temperatures, the snow flakes have more moisture in the atmoshpere to latch on to. The extra moisture acts like a sort of “glue” that bind the flakes together when they are packed. So if you are wanting a “Frosty” style snowfall, hope for heavy amounts with near freezing temperatures. -Greg


Posted under science, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 28, 2012

Friday Snow!

Get ready for some snowfall! It will begin late Thursday night and continue off and on through the day on Friday. Snowfall accumulations won’t be too terrible, but it should be just enough to cause a few headaches on the roads.

Here’s a look at Futuretrack concerning the snowfall amounts. Generally 1-3 inches are expected. A touch more is possible in Southeastern Wisconsin from Lake Geneva, through Burlington and Milwaukee.

The snow will begin accumulating Friday morning around 10am and end at about 10pm Friday night. It will be a fluffy snow…easier to shovel off of sidewalks and driveways. -Eric



Posted under weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 27, 2012

Cold Air Set to Continue

The jet stream has taken a nose dive, and that dip is what helped keep us from getting the inches upon inches of snow that some places south and east of the Stateline saw yesterday. This nose dive will also keep our temperatures cold this weekend.. and beyond. After tomorrow, highs do not surpass 30 degree in the 7 day forecast. Overnight highs will remain in the teens starting Saturday night. Though things will be chilly, other than some light snow accumulations tomorrow, no real threat for any winter storms exists in the rest of the forecast. -Greg


Posted under cold blast, snow, winter weather

This post was written by qni_it on December 27, 2012

Who’s ready for more sunlight?

Even though the winter months produce more cloudy days than the summertime months, we can look forward to a few more minutes of daylight over the next few weeks!

The shortest day of the year was December 21st. Since then, we’ve gained a minute of daylight. And while the difference may not be noticeable in the coming weeks, look at the difference between the amount of sunlight 4 weeks from now versus 8 weeks from now. On February 26th, we will have 11 hours and 4 minutes of daylight! -Eric


Posted under sunlight

This post was written by qni_it on December 26, 2012