Unprecedented: Weather Extremes Bring Shock, Dread

December 17, 2021

Washington Post:

It unleashed the most hurricane-force wind gusts of any storm since at least 2014. Tornadoes carved paths in places they never had before in a December, like western Iowa and Minnesota. Fires erupted. Walls of dust turned day to night.

Wednesday’s wind storm, which blasted areas from New Mexico to Michigan, was the second historic extreme weather event to wallop the Lower 48 states this week, among an onslaught this year.

2021′s various extreme weather events have featured record-crushing heat, wind, fire, snow, tornadoes and deluges. This one had it all, if you consider this storm had its roots in an atmospheric river that dumped flooding rain and massive amounts of snow in California a few days ago.

In particular, this storm stands out for the record-setting warmth that fueled it, the number of reports of destructive winds it generated and for spreading severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes, farther north than previously observed in December.

Headlined by a violent complex of thunderstorms, known as a derecho, it unleashed damage in seven states along a 665 mile path. It charged ahead at breakneck speeds averaging over 60 mph; individual thunderstorms progressed as fast as 110 mph.

The National Weather Service received reports of 23 tornadoes and over 500 instances of severe winds, mostly generated by the derecho. But even before the derecho formed, ferocious winds over 90 mph blasted the Rockies and western Plains. Several gusts over 100 mph were clocked in Colorado. Gusts over 60 mph affected 16 states.

The winds sheared off roofs, overturned vehicles and toppled trees. More than 600,000 customers in the Central United States were without power on Thursday morning in the storm’s wake. The winds also triggered blinding dust storms in southeast Colorado and western Kansas and fanned fires in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and central Kansas. Remarkably, the storm has been blamed for only one death so far.

The wind storm came just five days after the devastating tornado outbreak in the Mid-South on Friday night, the deadliest on record during December. Between the two events, few areas of the Central United States have been left untouched amid 222 tornado warnings and 357 severe thunderstorm warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

“[T]his single past week is unprecedented in U.S. meteorological history for most of the central U.S.,” wrote Christopher Burt, an expert on weather extremes, in an email.

One Response to “Unprecedented: Weather Extremes Bring Shock, Dread”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I always appreciate basic level descriptions and animations of phenomena. This description of what a derecho is was made in 2015:

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