As we look back on 2014, there were certainly a lot of memorable weather events. From hot to cold, wet to dry, windy, icy and snowy, the year pretty much ran the gamut of extremes from Mother Nature. We compiled a list of what we felt were the five most memorable weather events of the past year: what made news, was most shared on social media, or impacted the most people. Our list may be different from yours (and we’d love to hear what made it to your list), but here are our selections:
- The “Polar Vortex” – We had been saying since we revealed our 2014 forecast that the winter of 2013-2014 would be a cold and long one. And we were proved right: In early January, a pocket of dense, frigid air that normally sits in the polar region “dislodged” and dropped farther south than normal, creating bone-chilling lows throughout much of the U.S. and Canada, impacting some 240 million people, with temperatures up to 30 degrees below normal seasonal averages. In fact, the average daily temperature for the United States on January 6th was calculated to be 17.9 °F (−7.8 °C). Record-breaking cold temperatures traveled as far south as Florida, with officials reporting 21 cold-related deaths. Pipes froze, schools and flights were canceled and car batteries died. The so-called “polar vortex” made headlines for much of the first part of the year (and #polarvortex was tweeted over 4,800 times by 9:30 a.m. EST on January 6th alone), with icebox conditions lasting through March.
- The southeast quarter of the nation will probably never forget the Gulf Coast Winter Storm of January 28th – 30th, which caused massive travel disruptions, particularly in the Atlanta Metro area. Snow was observed as far south as the Florida panhandle. A low pressure system formed near the western Gulf of Mexico and moved eastward. The breakdown of the normal polar vortex allowed an outbreak of frigid arctic air to penetrate well into the South, much further south than normal, such that when the precipitation arrived from the Gulf Coast winter storm, freezing temperatures were occurring all of the way down to the coast. Buses became stuck on slick roads, and traffic in metro Atlanta quickly ground to a halt. Complete gridlock ensued, preventing the area’s few snowplows and other road-treatment vehicles from getting anywhere. Tractor-trailer trucks became stuck on the Perimeter (I-285), essentially closing the bypass route around the city.
- Super Bowl XLVIII Storm – When our 2014 edition hit the newsstands on August 26, 2013, almost immediately a rumor went viral that we were forecasting a blizzard for the Super Bowl. And although we had actually forecast the potential for a storm within the 72 hour timeframe from February 1st to 3rd, many people were concerned that the forecast was valid only for the three or so hours that the game would be played. Of course, we had to mention the possibility that a storm might adversely impact the Super Bowl, but we also pointed out that the storm could come the day before or the day after the game as well. However, it was only eight hours after the game ended that a winter storm warning was in effect and moderate-to-heavy snow was falling. By 8 a.m. Monday, February 3rd, streets were a slushy mess and flights in and out of the three major New York airports were either delayed or canceled. Eight inches of snow ultimate fell on East Rutherford, New Jersey, the site of the MetLife Stadium, which ironically had been a balmy 49 degrees at kickoff. It was literally the calm before the storm. Or as ESPN noted: “The NFL dodged a blizzard.”
- West Coast Drought Followed by Heavy Rains – The west, mainly California, experienced one of the driest years on record, one which experts called “historic.” By February, California Governor Brown declared a state of emergency and water rationing went into effect. It caused widespread economic and environmental pain across the region. With no significant moisture in the forecast, the entire state of California would remain in severe drought conditions until soaking rains came 10 months later. A powerful storm system in December pummeled the West Coast, bringing two weeks of heavy rain, as well as blizzards, high winds, flooding, and mudslides. An incredibly rare tornado even touched down in Los Angeles. The storm was a double-edged sword, leaving destruction in its wake—including highway closures, property damage, and widespread power outages—but also bringing some measure of drought relief. The area was hit by what is known as an atmospheric river — a moving band of concentrated moisture in the Earth’s atmosphere that travels from Hawaii to the Western U.S., a weather occurrence also called a Pineapple Express.
- Lake Effect Snow Storm in Western New York – The week before Thanksgiving, a serious lake-effect snow event dumped incredible snow totals on theGreat Lakes region, particularly south of Buffalo, New York, where seven feet of snow fell, crippling much of the region. On Nov. 21, when it was over, a new snowfall record of 88 inches was set in Cowlesville, New York, shattering the previous record of 81.5 inches set in December 2001. The snow fell so heavy and fast, that many motorists were stranded for up to 30 hours. Lake effect snow occurs when cold, arctic air moves over a body of warmer water, in this case, the Great Lakes, picking up moisture while crossing the lake, then releasing it as snow when the air cools over land. The lakes produce lake effect snow and continuous cloudy skies throughout the winter months, as long as air temperatures are colder than the lake water temperatures. Days after the lake-effect snow event, warmer temperatures swept across the area, causing a rapid snow melt. Fortunately, no major floods were reported.
What do you remember about the weather this past year? Post your comments below.