Extreme weather conditions occurred throughout January 2018, as the United States was plagued with record-breaking frigid temperatures, snow, wildfires and mudslides. Abnormal temperatures and weather were also apparent in Australia, Russia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
The extreme weather began on Christmas Day 2017 when Erie, Pennsylvania’s fourth largest city, received 34 inches of snow. Snow fell at a rate of three inches per hour. This surpassed Erie’s prior 24-hour snowfall record. Erie then received another 24 inches between midnight and 5 p.m. on Dec. 26, and another five to 10 inches on Dec. 27. The snow accumulation exceeded Pennsylvania’s former all-time two-day snowfall record, when snow accumulation in Morgantown in 1958 totaled 44 inches.
By Dec. 27, Erie received 97 total inches of snow for that month. This figure made December the snowiest month in Erie’s history. The city usually receives 100 inches of snow in one season.
Erie is situated along Lake Erie and is located between Buffalo and Cleveland. Its 99,000 inhabitants are accustomed to cold weather. Starting in late fall, cold air flows over the lake, where the water temperatures are generally mild. The cold air grasps the moisture and then precipitates it as snow.
The heaviest snowfall typically occurs far from the lake since higher altitudes drive out the moisture. Snow bands are defined as a congregation of falling snow over a period of time between three to six hours. Snow bands have radii of 20 to 50 miles, so it is unusual for them to linger in one location. This was defied during the snow accumulation in Erie. The snow band remained near the lake, affecting Erie with heavy snowfall.
The snow in Erie impacted travelers and left drivers stranded. Interstate 90 runs parallel to Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, and the highway is in a raised area vulnerable to periodic gusts of snow due to heavy winds.
The United States further experienced a cold snap in the period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Cold weather already gripped the northern part of the country, and an arctic air that first appeared over the central part moved east. Temperatures in International Falls, Minnesota, informally known as the “Icebox of the Nation,” shattered the 1924 record of minus 32 degrees. Hibbing, Minnesota, dropped to minus 27 degrees. States located in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes regions experienced highs in the teens, and lows in the negatives. Wind chill advisories were created for most regions in New England, northern Pennsylvania and New York. Residents were urged to take precautions against hypothermia and frostbite, as wind chills on Dec. 28 made them feel like the temperature was in the negatives. That day, Boston set a new record for lowest high temperature. Redfield and Boylston, two towns located near Lake Ontario in New York, experienced 5 feet of snow.
The cold weather continued to the end of December, affecting New Year’s celebrations across the country. The temperature in Times Square on New Year’s Eve was 11 degrees, but the actual feel was zero degrees. These temperatures were the same in 1962. The coldest New Year’s Eve in Times Square was observed in 1917, when it was one degree at midnight. The annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show in Springfield, Illinois was canceled because it was only nine degrees. In Ohio’s Miami Township, outdoor events were rescheduled to take place inside, and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in New Carlisle was only an hour-long activity. Orchard Park, a village near Buffalo, New York, cancelled its New Year’s Eve festivities because of the cold weather. The annual Lobster Dip at Old Orchard Beach in Maine was postponed for the first time in 30 years and Penguin Plunge directors in Narragansett, Rhode Island urged participants to “use their good judgment.” The New Year’s Day Mummers Parade, a parade featuring performers in vivid attire, was still held in Philadelphia.
The cold weather continued during the first week of January 2018. Earlier that week, it was announced that a bomb cyclone would hit the eastern United States.
Officially known as explosive bombogenesis, this phenomenon is a winter storm that mostly affects the East Coast. This winter storm was caused by cold air from Canada, prompting freezing temperatures in the Northeast. The cold air diverged with the warm, damp air near the Southern coast. This divergence triggered a substantial collapse in air pressure, a defining characteristic of a bomb cyclone.
A bomb cyclone drops 24 millibars in 24 hours. Forecasters anticipated that this particular bomb cyclone would have a 50 millibar drop in 24 hours. A storm’s intensity depends on its air pressure – as the pressure lowers, the storm intensifies. Air pressure is defined as the weight of the atmosphere. Since the air rises in a storm, the pressure decreases. The anticipation that the 2018 bomb cyclone had a 50 millibar drop in 24 hours revealed how the storm rapidly escalated. This is an indication of how much air is involved with the storm’s advancement. The air moves toward the center, soars and leaves at the top. If more air abandons the storm’s center than entering, the pressure continues to grow. This prompts the bomb cyclone to increase in magnitude. Heavy snow, coastal surges and hurricane-style wind gusts characterize bomb cyclones once they amplify.
This bomb cyclone was similar to Superstorm Sandy. Sandy, however, started as a developed hurricane and was more destructive than this bomb cyclone because it had more time to bolster its power after it moved past the Caribbean.
Forecasters anticipated the bomb cyclone would hit Florida and the Carolinas on Wednesday, Jan. 3. The storm was anticipated to move north and go up to Maine. It was anticipated the area between Virginia Beach and Boston would be hit with six to 12 inches of snow. Northern New England was anticipated to get 12 to 18 inches. It was possible for eastern Long Island and northern New England to face blizzard conditions. In particular, residents along the New England coast were warned that coastal surges could damage waterfront homes and trigger beach erosion. Massachusetts and Maine were expected to lose power.
Bomb cyclone Grayson hit Florida on Wednesday, Jan. 3. Tallahassee, the state capital, received 0.1 inches of snow and sleet, the city’s first snow in 28 years. Cold temperatures in southern Florida caused iguanas to fall from trees. The reptiles turn motionless when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.
In Georgia, the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport closed after the region received an inch of snow. Freezing temperatures in Atlanta plummeted into the teens when nightfall hit. The number of hospital patients in the city increased that day, as patients in the emergency room had ailments caused by the weather. Several patients’ body temperatures dropped to the low 80s, compared with the normal human body temperature at approximately 98.6 degrees.
Charleston, South Carolina’s largest city, experienced its third snowiest day ever when it was hit with five inches of snow. The South Carolina coast was placed under an unusual warning for “heavy freezing rain.” It was nine degrees in the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina, a temperature that was last experienced in 1897. The District of Columbia government prolonged its cold emergency plan initiated on Dec. 27 due to the bomb cyclone.
The bomb cyclone hit the New York City region on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 4. Snow accumulated at the rate of two inches per hour. Nine inches of snow fell in Central Park and over 11 inches of snow fell in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Thirteen inches of snow fell in Queens’ Rego Park and 10 inches of snow fell in Staten Island’s Great Kills. Some regions of Queens experienced wind gusts of nearly 50 mph, while over 60 mph were experienced on Long Island. Over 2,000 flights at the region’s three chief airports were canceled.
Once the bomb cyclone hit New England, it created chaos in Massachusetts, as Boston suffered destructive flooding and coastal communities experienced high tides. Boston had flooded streets, and drivers were in cars that looked as if they were floating. Wind gusts of 40 mph were reported. Six and one-half inches of snow fell in Boston by 1 p.m., and Taunton, a city south of Boston, had 14.6 inches. Water advanced over a barrier island and came to a condo community while cars “floated” through the streets in Chatham, a town on the elbow of Cape Cod. Over 5,500 homes in Cape Cod had no power and Nantucket experienced 70 mph winds. In Scituate, the ocean waters broke through barriers and flooded the streets. Providence, Rhode Island’s capital, received around eight to 10 inches after it snowed for seven hours. The Canadian province of Nova Scotia saw waves that were five stories high.
The cold weather continued after the bomb cyclone and stayed through the weekend. Temperatures were 20 to 40 degrees below average. On Saturday, Jan. 6, the high for New York City was 14 degrees and the low was approximately five degrees. Subzero temperatures were reported for nearly all of New England. Temperatures fell to minus 11 degrees in Boston that night, and between minus 16 and 19 degrees in Portland, Maine and Burlington, Vermont. 30 mph winds made the actual feel 10 to 20 degrees colder.
On the Western coast of the United States, the Thomas Fire in California officially subdued after it caused a month’s worth of damage. The Thomas Fire sparked on Dec. 4 and destroyed 281,900 acres of forest, a magnitude that is larger than Dallas and Miami merged together. Powerful Santa Ana winds and precipitation deficit triggered the fire. Required evacuation orders were created for parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The Thomas Fire demolished 1,063 buildings and ruined an additional 280, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It caused $10 billion in devastation.
The fire caused a new danger for Southern Californians. Heavy rain fell between 3 to 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan.8. The rain fell more than 1.5 inches per hour in certain regions. Deadly mudslides can appear when a half-inch of rain falls per hour.
The heavy rain fell on slopes scorched by the Thomas Fire. The fire ruined vegetation that made the land more averse to mudslides. Montecito, a community in Santa Barbara County, and Carpinteria, a coastal city in southeastern Santa Barbara County, were particularly vulnerable to mudslides because there is a drastic change in topography within a few miles. The topography ranges from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level. Regions below the ruined slopes are susceptible to mudflow risk for the next few years. There is little vegetation that consumed the rain once it hit the ground, as the fire burned multiple brush and shrubs. Slopes no longer had a defensive shield.
Rivers of mud crashed through Montecito, and mandatory evacuation zones were extended. Rescuers looked through accumulations of mud, furniture and fallen trees for trapped residents. Twenty-one people were killed and 28 people were injured. Sixty-five homes and 462 additional lodgings were destroyed in Santa Barbara County. Portions of U.S. Route 101, the longest highway in California, were closed until Monday, Jan. 15. Drivers used Interstate 5, while others took boats between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Several companies provided ferries that ran four times a day, transporting 400 passengers daily.
Extreme weather was also seen in multiple countries all over the world. While the United States endured cold temperatures after the bomb cyclone, Sydney, the state capital of New South Wales in Australia, experienced intense heat. It was 117.14 degrees in Sydney on Sunday, Jan. 7. The hottest temperature ever recorded was only slightly higher, at 118.04 degrees in 1939. Police urged students to stay hydrated, stay out of the sun and be cautious while swimming. They emphasized that it was illegal to leave children or pets alone in a car, an action that is fatal during extreme heat. New South Wales Ambulance employees were vigilant by beaches, fire was outlawed in the Sydney area and the adjacent Hunter Region and the fire danger rank was characterized as “severe.”
As a result of Australia’s intense heat, a portion of highway linking Sydney and Melbourne melted and bats fell dead from trees. Green sea turtles, a species whose sex is dictated by temperature, bore 99 percent female newborns.
The temperature in Sydney on Monday, Jan. 8 was 91.4 degrees, which was considered a relief for the city’s residents.
On the other side of the world, thermometers froze and burst in Yakutsk, a Russian city that is the capital of the Sakha Republic and is 280 miles south of the Arctic Circle. On Tuesday, Jan. 16, the temperature was a staggering minus 88.6 degrees. While schools are open in minus 40-degree weather, classes were canceled Tuesday and children were instructed to remain inside. A selfie posted by Anastasia Gruzdeva on Sunday, Jan. 14 drew attention to the bitter weather. It was so cold that her eyelashes froze. That weekend, two men froze to death when walking to a farm after their car broke down. Three remaining men survived simply because they were wearing warmer clothes.
All houses and businesses in the Sakha Republic have effective central heating and access to extra power generators, the governor reassured. The Magadan Oblast, Russia’s least-populated oblast, experienced minus 67 degrees. In Krasnoyarsk, a Siberian city with 1 million people, it was minus 40 degrees. While the wind chill made the actual feel minus 58 degrees, this temperature was considered mild.
Storm Fionn, hit Ireland on Tuesday, Jan. 16. Shannon Airport, one of Ireland’s three principal airports, reported wind speeds of 72.7 mph. Atlantic coastal counties, such as Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Waterford, had wind gusts of up to 74.6 mph. There were flooding risks and temperatures were around freezing.
The effects of Storm Fionn were predominantly seen in the United Kingdom. A multitude of schools were closed in Northern Ireland. Over a foot of snow accumulated in the Scottish village Eskdalemuir and Scottish Highlands city Inverness received eight inches of snow. As a result of the weather, highways in Lanarkshire, a county in the central Lowlands of Scotland, temporarily closed for number of hours.
By Wednesday, Jan. 17, winds reached 70 mph in northern England and Wales. Drivers in West Yorkshire, a county in England, said they were stuck in their cars for hours. Rain replaced snow on Thursday.
On Thursday, Jan.18, the Netherlands experienced abnormal winds, reaching up to 87 mph. Trucks were overturned on highways and roofs were blown off homes. Pedestrians were swept off their feet and clung onto street posts to avoid being flown away.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol momentarily disbanded flights and closed two of its three departure halls. This decision was reached after the airport’s roof panels were blown away. KLM, the flag carrier airline of the Netherlands, either postponed or cancelled various flights to and from Amsterdam.
While the United States experienced abnormal temperatures in the beginning of January, milder temperatures of 50 degrees in the Northeast were seen during the month’s third week. However, temperatures are plummeting, and the region will be cold again once February starts.
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