December Storm Smashes Records

December 16, 2021

Bob Henson in Yale Climate Connections:

One of the most spectacular and unseasonable U.S. storm systems in memory barreled through the center of the country on Wednesday at dizzying speed. The springlike cyclone left a trail of damage that was startlingly widespread, though fortunately not nearly as catastrophic as the Mississippi Valley tornadoes of Friday, December 10 (see below for an update).

Unlike most such rapidly intensifying cyclones over the Great Plains, there wasn’t much extreme precipitation with this one. Instead, wind, warmth, and dust were the chief features, all playing out in panoramic fashion.

The storm system fed off the large-scale contrast in place during much of this autumn and early winter between frigid air toward northwest North America and recurrent unusual warmth across much of the United States. An upper-atmosphere disturbance flowing along the powerful jet stream between these areas intensified as it rolled across the Great Plains on Wednesday.

The broad contours of the setup weren’t all that unusual. Instead, it was their almost-ludicrous intensity that made Wednesday such a memorable day for weather watchers around the world, not to mention forecasters and everyday people in the midst of it all.

Winds gusted to 107 mph at Lamar, Colorado, and to 100 mph at Russell, Kansas. All in all, Wednesday produced more reports of wind gusts topping 75 mph than any day on record, according to the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

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