Monday, May 23, 2011

Historic Twentieth Century Weather Events in Oklahoma

It is difficult to talk about the garden while the weather remains so erratic. Our poor neighbors to the East have had more than their share of tragic storms this year and apparently the new century is determind to break all former records. In light of this, perhaps a review of the most famous weather events of the 20th century is in order. Here is the list of the top ten, compliments of the Oklahoma Climatology Survey. (The list for the Twenty first century is already making history.)

Dust Bowl - Early and Mid 1930s. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s ranks also among the most significant events of the century nationally, by literally changing the face of the Great Plains. Extreme heat and drought, especially in 1934 and 1936, with the all-time record high of 113°F set at Oklahoma City in August 1936.

Tornado Outbreak
- May 3-4, 1999. In terms of sheer numbers of tornadoes (73 in a 21-hour period), the outbreak more than doubled the previous record for number of tornadoes reported. Two tornadoes were rated F4, and the tornado that struck the Oklahoma City metro area was the first F5 recorded in the state in nearly 20 years. There were 40 deaths and almost 700 injuries.

Blizzard - February 20-22, 1971. Although this snowstorm was confined to a relatively small part of northwest Oklahoma, the storm total of 3 feet at Buffalo, Oklahoma nearly doubles the maximum storm total of any other snowstorm in Oklahoma history. Winds whipped snow into enormous drifts, forcing people to use second-story windows to get out of their homes.

Woodward Tornado - April 9, 1947. The most deadly tornado in Oklahoma history killed 116 people in Woodward alone, part of a total death toll of 181.
#Tinker Air Force Base Tornadoes - March 1948. Two direct hits, only 5 days apart, led to the genesis of tornado forecasting, which in turn paved the way for all of the scientific and technological advances in severe weather forecasting since. The first tornado hit on March 20, causing over $10 million in damage to the base and prompting officers to launch the very first efforts to predict tornadoes. As a result, when the second tornado hit the base five days later, it was predicted accurately by officers Fawbush and Miller- the first successful tornado forecast in history.

Arctic Cold Wave - December 1983. Like the 1980 heat wave, many Oklahomans remember this as one of the most severe bouts of prolonged wind and cold ever. The latter half of the month saw temperatures 20 to 40 degrees below average nearly every day, along with winds that kept wind chills routinely between 0°F and -40°F. The temperature remained below freezing from the evening of the 17th until New Year's Eve - an all-time record of nearly 2 weeks. Temperatures dropped to 0°F or colder on 4 days, never rose out of the single digits on 3 days, and never rose above the teens on 7 days. (~I shall never forget this one as my sister and her two girls were visiting. Trapped in the house with seven children under the age of nine is memorable by any standards.)

Heat Wave - Summer 1980. This event is well remembered by many Oklahomans as the most prolonged and severe heat wave outside of the dust bowl years. The 50 days of triple-digit temperatures at Oklahoma City stands as an all-time record- the maximum of 110°F is the hottest day on record.

Snowstorm - January 5-7, 1988. This weather event makes the list because of the unprecedented coverage of heavy snow. Although the maximum storm total of 17 inches at Hennessey has been exceeded in several other storms, significant snowfall amounts were reported across most of Oklahoma. The storm totals exceeded 6 inches over virtually the entire state and the 12.1 inches at Oklahoma City still stands as an all-time record for storm total snowfall.

Flash Flood in Tulsa - May 26-27, 1984 (Memorial Day weekend). This event is arguably the most significant urban flash flood in Oklahoma history, as rainfall of up to 15 inches (perhaps more - many gages overflowed) pounded the city overnight, leading to 14 deaths.

Ice Storm - December 25-27, 1987. Ice accumulations up to 2 inches, from near Duncan to Norman to Tulsa, left many areas without power for a week or more. The storm ranks as one of the costliest winter storms on record based on utility records.

Number 12, an honorable mention is astounding...
"Blue Norther" - November 11, 1911. 11/11/11 is the only date in the record books on which record high and record low temperatures were recorded on the same day. An Arctic front roared into the state and plunged the temperature reading from an afternoon high of a balmy 83°F to a midnight low of 17°F. The temperature fell to 14°F on the morning of the 12th - a drop of 69 degrees in less than 24 hours!