Saturday, December 26, 2015

Unpredented Christmas Heat Ending, Dangerous Storms Continue

A flower bloomed in Christmas Day in a West Rutland,
Vermont garden. This garden usually covered in snow
and temperatues are normally well below
freezing this time of year. 
Well, that was quite a Christmas holiday for weather geeks, wasn't it?

Many dozens of cities set record high temperatures for Christmas Eve and Christmas, and  few places even set records for the highest temperatures recorded for the entire month of December.

The downside of this were the tragic and/or dangerous storms that started in earnest on December 23 and continue now, and will continue through the weekend.

At least 15 people were killed in tornadoes Wednesday across the South.  Flooding got destructive in Alabama and Georgia Christmas Day, and will get really nasty in places like Oklahoma and Arkansas today and this weekend.

Meanwhile, a blizzard is churning through New Mexico and Texas, and ugly winter weather is forecast over the coming days from the Plains States to New England.  It seems like most of the country is under some sort of weather alert or warning.

The details, starting with the Christmas heat:


According to NOAA's National Center for Environmental Information, 515 United States reporting stations reported record highs in the past seven days. That's a big number for sure.

Here where I live in Vermont, we were an epicenter of sorts for at least the Christmas Eve heat, with all kinds of record highs being set statewide.

Burlington, Vermont  set an all time record high for the month at 68 degrees, so far the major reporting station I could find that set a all time monthly record.

New York City tabloids reacted to the
Christmas heat. Record highs of 72
degrees were recorded in Central Park. 
That record is especially impressive as in the rare case of a new record high for December, you'd think it would come early in the month, since that's the warmest part of December anyway.

That 68 degrees exceeded the previous record high by an astonishing 17 degrees.  It was also just six degrees cooler than the high temperature this past Fourth of July. (Normally, there's about a 50 degree difference between high temperatures in Burlington on July 4 and December 25.)

Down in Rutland, Vermont the Christmas Eve high temperature was 70 degrees.

Atop Mount Mansfield, at just over 4,000 feet in elevation, they experienced a record high of 51 degrees, and it was the first Christmas Eve on record at this mountaintop without any snow on the ground.

In my travels around Vermont on Christmas Eve, I was treated to a surreal December landscape that looked more like April, with meadows and hay fields greening up nicely, and a few flowers in some gardens. People played softball on baseball diamonds, and many families had outdoor Christmas Eve barbecues.  

The temperature in Vermont "cooled" to the 50s on Christmas Day, still some 20 degrees warmer than average. Temperatures in Burlington this December - complete with 10 days reaching highs of 50 or more - are normal for central Virginia.

The only winter heat waves I can think of that were as extreme as this one, was one in January 1995, when Burlington topped out at 66 degrees and had an overnight low of 59 one day. The other was one that stradled winter and spring in the middle of March, 2012, when temperatures reached the 70s and low 80s daily for a week.

The record heat continued in much of the East Christmas Day, and will continue in the Southeast today.

But it all came with a price.


One of the main ingredient for very rough, stormy weather is a sharp temperature contrast, and we've had that in the United States for the past few days. The East has had that record heat. The western half of the nation is cold.

Just typical cold for late December, mind you, but cold nonetheless. Contrast that with summer like heat in the East, and you get a battleground of sorts with tons of storminess. It's not helping that the eastern warmth is only grudgingly giving ground, so the severe weather between the warmth and the cold in the middle of the country is lingering on and on.
The National Weather Service home page
map is covered with a wide variety of
weather warnings and alerts Saturday. 

It started Tuesday, and won't stop until at least Monday..

Plus there's incredible amounts of warmth and moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, and that is helping lead to incredible amounts of precipitation.

The rough weather is coming in many forms:


As mentioned,  at least 15 people died in twisters Wednesday.  This tragedy means that 2015 will not go down as the least deadly tornado year on record in the United States. Until Wednesday, only ten people had died in tornadoes all year.

But now that death toll is over 20. The least annual number of tornadoe deaths in the United States was 12 in 1912, says Dr. Jeff Masters in his Weather Underground blog.

A Christmas tornado near Birmingham, Alabama damaged or destroyed several homes. Severe flooding (more on that in a minute) hampered rescue efforts.

More severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes could occur today over the weekend, and possibly into Monday near the Gulf Coast. The severe weather will be concentrated today over Texas, especially in a corridor between Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth.  Sunday, the risk moves to over eastern Texas, Louisiana and southern Arkansas, and along the central Gulf Coast Monday, says NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.


There was quite a bit of flooding in Alabama and Georgia over the Christmas holiday, with Alabama's governor declaring a state of emergency there.

Heavy rain will continue over those two states over the next couple of days, but the flood focus is really shifting to places like eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas today and tomorrow.

The same storm that's causing the tornado threat in Texas and the Gulf Coast is drawing in enormous amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The forecast shield of heavy precipitation from this is enormous, with flood watches in a broad stretch from Texas to Ohio and along the southern and central Appalachians.
National Weather Service office in Birmingham,
Alabama tweeted this photo of a Christmas Day
tornado near Tuscaloosa. 

The bullseye for the heaviest rain goes from  northeast Texas into southern Illinois, where four to as much as 12 inches of rain are forecast.

 Much of this area has already been very, very wet in recent weeks and months, so this flooding could turn out to be huge.

The National Weather Service office in Tulsa is warning of a potentially dangerous and life threatening situation along several rivers in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

Winter Storms:

The National Weather Service in Alburquerque, New Mexico is warning of a record setting blizzard or the rest of the weekend, especially in the eastern part of that state.

An incredible 15 to 20 inches of snow is forecast, which is pretty rare for dry eastern New Mexico, and drifts could reach five feet deep.

Winds during the blizzard could gust to 65 mph. The weather service is understandably warning people not to drive at all during this storm.

The Texas Panhandle is going to get it just as bad, with drifts as high as ten feet amid heavy snow and winds to 60 mph.

A separate area of heavy snow is falling from eastern Colorado, northern Nebraska, much of South Dakota and on into southwestern Minnesota. Winter storm warnings are up in that region today.

Northern New England is in for a rude awakening after the record heat of the past few days. Winter warnings and advisories are up for tonight and tomorrow for parts of northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for a mix of wet snow, sleet and freezing rain later tonight and Sunday.

Another storm on Tuesday is expected to bring more snow and mixed precipitation to much of New England. So much for the green grass and unseasonable flowers.

Things will finally, finally settled down in the nation somewhat as we head toward the New Year, as temperatures in most places will become more seasonable and we will get a least a temporary break from intense storms.

For pretty much the whole nation among weather watchers, though, this will be the ultimate December to remember.

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