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Extreme Weather Facts

Almost every day, one location or another breaks a previous record for high or low temperature, rainfall, wind speed, or some other weather variable. But what about overall records? What place in the United States has had the highest temperature? What about the lowest? Which hurricane caused the most deaths, or the most property damage? I will give answers to these questions and others in this article!

Let’s begin with extreme temperatures. In the United States, the record highest temperature (as of December 2003) occurred in Greenland Ranch (Death Valley), California (178 feet below sea level), where the thermometer reached 134˚ F on July 10, 1913. The record low was set, not surprisingly, in Prospect Creek, Alaska on January 23, 1971 with a temperature of -80˚. For the contiguous 48 states, the lowest temperature (-70˚) was recorded in Rogers Pass, Montana, on January 20, 1954.

Globally, the record highest temperature occurred in Africa in 1922. On September 13 of that year, El Azizia, Libya, recorded a temperature of 136˚ F. The Death Valley temperature mentioned above (134˚) is the second highest. As for the lowest temperature recorded on the planet, think Antarctica! On July 21, 1983 (remember, seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere), Vostok, Antarctica had a low temperature of -129˚. The second lowest temperatures, -90˚ F, occurred in two locations in Siberia. Both Oimekon, Russia (February 6, 1933) and Verkhoyansk, Russia (February 7, 1892) have been that cold.

Precipitation records can be tricky to compare for several reasons. One is the various types of precipitation that may occur – how are they related? The rule of thumb for rain versus snow is 1 inch of rain to 10 inches of snow. Another difficulty is variation in measuring equipment, which may skew the results. Topography of the land can also make a difference in how precipitation is recorded. Thus, the figures I report must be viewed as estimates.

Hawaii has the most rainfall by far of any state in the U.S. In 1982, Kukui, Hawaii received 704.83 inches of rain. Alaska comes in second with 332.29 inches at McLeod Harbor (1976), but Oregon is the wettest state in the continental 48. In 1996, Laurel Mountain, Oregon recorded 204.04 inches of precipitation.

For the lowest annual rainfall, we once again meet our friend Death Valley, California, which received no precipitation at all in 1929. A close runner-up is Hot Springs, Nevada, with a trace of precipitation in 1898.

Globally, we examine average annual precipitation, and find that the records are less precise. Three locations vie for the top spot: Lloro, Columbia (523.6 inches, est.), Mawsynram, India (467.4 inches, est.), and Mt. Waialeale, Kauai, Hawaii (460 inches). The lowest average annual precipitation is easier to determine – Arica, Chile had an average of 0.03 inches of precipitation over 59 years (thus its name, Arica, i.e. arid).

The Galveston hurricane of September, 1900, was the deadliest hurricane ever to strike the United States. Over 8000 fatalities resulted from the unexpected storm surge that resulted from this unnamed hurricane.

From 1980-2007, 3 weather disasters costing over $40 billion occurred in the United States. The most expensive was Hurricane Katrina, a former category 5 storm that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, and had an estimated cost of $133 billion. The storm also caused at least 1833 deaths. Two drought/heat waves that occurred in 1980 and 1988 were less costly in dollars but more so in lives. The drought and heat wave over the central and eastern U.S. from June-September 1980 caused approximately 10,000 deaths. Approximately 7500 died during a similar drought/heat wave in 1988,with a cost in dollars of 71 billion. All costs have been adjusted to 2007 dollars.

The ten deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history all occurred prior to the advent of modern forecasting techniques. Only three occurred after World War II. The event that caused the most documented deaths was the Tri-State Tornado that hit Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana in 1925. This tornado had an estimated intensity of F5, the highest category, based on damage reports. It resulted in 2027 injuries and 695 deaths during its journey across the three states.


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