2017 Weather Review: Record Rainfall, Warmth, and Tornadoes

  • Dec 27, 2017

2017 Weather Review

As we come down to the last days of the year, we’re noticing our 2017 weather review is full of records. From historic warm to drenching rains, U.S. residents faced some of the toughest weather conditions this year. Keep reading to go through Earth Networks Meteorologists Matt Mehallow and Alyssa Robinette’s timeline of the most extreme weather events of 2017.

Deadly Southeast Tornado Outbreak

Going in order, the first major weather event in the U.S. this year was a tornado outbreak in the Southeast. A strong storm system swept through the area on January 21-23. These storms produced a tornado outbreak across the Southeast U.S. that consisted of over 81 tornadoes. This was the second largest January tornado outbreak and third largest winter tornado outbreak since 1950!

In the state of Georgia, it was the largest tornado outbreak ever confirmed. It made this record with an impressive 42 tornadoes. The most significant tornadoes were three EF3s that severely damaged or destroyed parts of:

  • Hattiesburg, Mississippi
  • Albany, Georgia
  • Adel, Georgia


During this outbreak, the tornadoes killed a total of 20 people. These deaths mostly occured during the pre-dawn hours of the outbreak. This means another record for the books: The second deadliest outbreak in January since 1950. The deadliest single tornado from the event was an EF3 that tracked 24 miles across southern Georgia, killing 11 people.

We also tracked a smaller outbreak of tornadoes in late February/early March. You can learn more about that tornado outbreak on our blog.

West Coast Storm Onslaught

A parade of Pacific storms slammed into the West Coast during January. These storms provided much needed drought relief for California and Nevada. However, the heavy precipitation caused widespread flooding and mudslides.  The progressive storm track included several moderate to strong atmospheric rivers which produced impressive precipitation totals across the southern parts of the West.

In the coastal mountains of northern California, Venado observed 48.83 inches of precipitation. That’s a mins-blowing 417 percent of normal. Sierra Nevada snowfall was well above normal as Tahoe City, Calif., observed 136 inches of snowfall. This made it the 4th snowiest January since records began in 1903. Reno recorded 5.57 inches of rainfall, 540% of normal. January set the record for wettest of any month in the station’s history beginning in 1937.

Notable Warmth Engulfs United States

The next event was record warmth. Near-record warmth continued across the contiguous U.S. in February, with most locations warmer than average. It was the second warmest February in the U.S. since records began 123 years ago. Six states had a record warm February:

  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia.


February’s above-normal temperatures contributed to Baltimore, Md., and Huntington, W. Va., receiving only a trace (less than 0.1 inches, 0.3 cm) of snow during the month. Both sites tied their records for their least snowy February’s.  Major Midwestern cities had their warmest February on record. Some of these cities include:

  • Indianapolis
  • Des Moines
  • Iowa
  • St. Louis
  • Cleveland
  • Ohio
  • Milwaukee


Record Rainfall Drenches California

The next events is record rainfall in California. Heavy, persistent rainfall across northern and central California. While rain seems like a good thing, it created substantial property and infrastructure damage from flooding, landslides, and erosion.

Significant impacts included severe damage to the Oroville Dam spillway. If you don’t remember, this caused a multi-day evacuation of 188,000 residents downstream. Excessive rainfall also caused flood damage in the city of San Jose. Heavy rains caused Coyote Creek to flood and inundated neighborhoods – forcing 14,000 residents to evacuate. In northern Nevada along the Humboldt River, flooding damaged homes and roadways. There, the failure of an earthen dam near Wells also caused significant flooding for rural areas.

Many locations in the Northwest achieved record monthly rainfall totals.

  • Spokane: 4.39 in precipitation | 330 percent of normal | Second wettest February in a 137-year record
  • Pocatello: 3.10 inches |320 percent of normal | Wettest in a 79-year record
  • Venado: 37.45 inches, breaking the previous record of 19.24 inches set in 2000.


Nor’easter Thumps Northeast

Next in February, a major nor’easter struck. The storm system brought heavy snow, blizzard conditions and high winds to a swath of the Northeast on February 9. Blizzard conditions were reported in New England, including Boston and Providence.

Thundersnow was observed in many locations from Pennsylvania to Maine. The highest snow total was 24 inches near Cooper, Maine. 19 inches was reported in East Hartford, Conn., while 10.7 inches fell at Boston-Logan Airport and 9.4 inches in Central Park, N.Y.

Spring Nor’easter Slams New York, Pennsylvania

A Nor’easter moved through the Northeast March 13th into March 14th, allowing heavy snow to spread across portions of the Northeast.  As the system slowly shifted east, lake-effect snow bands produced even more snow across the favored areas east of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie on March 15th. Hardest hit areas were New York and northeastern Pennsylvania, where 2 to 4 feet of snow were reported as a result of the Nor’easter and the lake snow effect   Furthermore, At least two small avalanches blocked roads in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Records were smashed throughout the Northeast:

  • Highest storm total: 48.4 inches in Hartwick, N.Y.
  • Binghamton, N.Y., set a new all-time 24-hour snow record, picking up 31.3 inches of snow between 3 a.m. on March 14th to 3 a.m. on March 15th.  The old record was set in February 1961.

With a season-to-date total through March 15th of 131.9 inches, the 2016-2017 season became the snowiest on record for Binghamton, N.Y.  Scranton, Pa., had its all-time snowiest day on record with 22.1 inches on March 14th.  This beat its old record of 18.7 inches set on March 13, 1993.

Williamsport, Pa., and Burlington, Vt., ranked March 14th among their top five all-time snowiest days on record.

In addition to the snow, strong to even hurricane-force winds accompanied the storm along the New England coast.  Wellfleet, Mass., observed wind gusts of 79 mph. The winds downed trees and power lines, contributing to thousands of power outages throughout New England. Travel bans were enacted in New York and Connecticut, which resulted in thousands of flights cancelled nationwide.

Mid-March Deep South Freeze

The same ingredients that created the March 13th and 14th Nor’easter brought a deep freeze to the Southeast.  The 2016-2017 winter season began as one of the warmest in recent memories. Spring had been running about 20 days earlier than normal. Then, a strong cold front arrived.

Record cold temperatures:

  • Florence, S.C., dropped to 20 degrees, shattering its previous record of 25 degrees
  • Charleston, S.C., observed a record low of 24 degrees, four degrees below its previous record
  • Savannah, Ga., tied its record low of 26 degrees
  • Jacksonville, Fla., set a record low of 28 degrees
  • Gainesville, Fla., fell to 25 degrees, while its old record was 32 degrees


The hard freeze produced up to $1 billion in crop losses across Georgia and South Carolina.  This included a majority of peaches, strawberries, blueberries, pears, and cherries in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  A series of frosts also damaged fruit and vegetable crops in northern and central Florida, while moderate-to-severe frost damage was reported in winter wheat fields in nearly every state across the Southeast. The exceptionally warm winter across the Southeast caused fruit and vegetable crops to bud and bloom earlier than normal.

Wildfires Scorch Plains

A continuation of unseasonably warm and dry conditions caused drought to expand across the Plains in March.  The combination of warm, dry, and breezy weather easily allowed wildfires to develop and spread across Colorado, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and western Kansas. Multiple fires throughout the month burned more than 2 million acres and killed seven people and thousands of livestock.

A series of wildfires, known as the Northwest Oklahoma Complex fires, were the most destructive.  It burned more than 400,000 acres in Kansas, making it the largest in state history. It is estimated that it could take $55 million dollars to repair and recover acreage burned.

Another wildfire broke out in Boulder, Colo., known as the Sunshine Canyon fire.  While the fire only lasted a few days, it burned more than 45,000 acres and it cost an estimated $725,000 to extinguish.

April Tornado Outbreak

Spring of 2017 started off with a bang. While there are typically 155 tornado reports during the month, April of 2017 had 211 preliminary tornado reports. This ranks April 2017 among the top 10 in the highest amount of tornadoes for the month. The first week and the last week of April were the most active and deadly for the month, with eight tornado-related fatalities reported.

Between April 2nd and 3rd the first outbreak started. There were 65 preliminary tornado reports stretching from Texas to South Carolina.  The first day of the outbreak resulted in two deaths after an EF-1 tornado hit a mobile home in St. Martin Parish, La. The second day of the outbreak resulted in an EF-1 tornado killing one person in Union County, S.C.

While a storm system brought snow to the High Plains and Midwest, another tornado outbreak broke out throughout the Great Plains and Gulf Coast on the last two days of April. Two separate tornadoes, an EF-4 and an EF-3, resulted in four fatalities in Van Zandt County, Texas, on April 29th. Another fatality was reported in Mississippi after an EF-2 stuck on April 30th.

Our advanced weather visualization tool Sferic Maps tracked these tornadoes as they tore across the country.

Historic Rain Drenches Mississippi Valley

Last for this post we’ll cover historic rain in the Mississippi Valley.

Heavy rain and flooding was found across the central Mississippi Valley April 28th through April 30th.  Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana were the most impacted from this 1-in-1,000-year rain storm. Ten to 12 inches were reported, with some areas seeing more than  15 inches of rain. Other areas of eastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, and Arkansas received rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches.

This torrential rain caused record-breaking flooding across rivers in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas, with many locations smashing their record that stood for more than 100 years.  Several levees broke, resulting in widespread flooding.  Interstate 44 between St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., and portions of Interstate 55 near St. Louis were forced to shut down. Many other travel restrictions were in place, with numerous water rescues needed.  The University of Arkansas stated that damage totals could be near $64.5 million in Arkansas.

Find Out More

Where’s the rest of the 2017 weather review timeline? Check out 2017 weather year in review part 2. If you’d like a reminder straight to your inbox, subscribe to our blog. It’s free!