2017 Weather Year in Review: Part 2

  • Dec 28, 2017

2017 Weather Year in Review: Part Two

Ready to review more of 2017’s craziest weather conditions? Earth Networks Meteorologists Mike Hertz and Andrew Rosenthal are here to cover May through August. So sit back, relax, and get ready to go through the extreme weather conditions of 2017.

May: Severe Thunderstorms Rock Central U.S.

While the severe weather season had its fits and starts this year, it picked up in earnest in May. One outbreak of tornadoes lasting from May 15th to the 20th produced 134 tornadoes, including one storm that tracked across Wisconsin for more than 80 miles.

The series of severe weather was thanks to stubborn high pressure across the Southeast combined with cold low pressure locked in the Dakotas. This fed wave after wave of warm air into the Mississippi Valley, setting up a powder keg situation that exploded from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Texas.

  • The strongest tornadoes were EF-3 intensity. One storm in particular struck northwestern Wisconsin on May 16, killing 1 person and injuring 25 others as it tracked along an 82-mile path.
  • In addition to the severe thunderstorms, a slow-moving front set up across Oklahoma and Kansas, bringing 8 inches of rain and flash flooding.
  • At the same time, heavy snow fell across the Rockies from the 17th to the 19th. Cheyenne, Wyo., saw a record 32.2 inches of snow, while Estes Park, Colo., also broke a record with more than 3 feet of snow.


May: Florida Smolders with Forests Ablaze

The fifth month of the year brought tinder-dry conditions to Florida and the Southeast, resulting in widespread wildfires across the Sunshine State.

The fires were the result of a moderate to extreme drought, punctuated by a nearly complete lack of spring rainfall in the northern half of the state. By early May, the drought covered 72 percent of Florida.

  • The most prolific fire was the West Mims Fire, which burned in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Georgia from early April through late May.  Fortunately, its location in the swampland limited the property damage. Nearly 150,000 acres were burned in the fires, which sent smoke and ash streaming into downtown Jacksonville, Fla.
  • In all 320 fires were reported across Florida during the month, with some 2,100 fires in all of 2017. This is compared to a normal May that typically sees 100 or less wildfires in the state.
  • As the dry season roared to a close in late May, waves of heavy rain helped to bring the fires under control.


June: Southwest Scorcher

June 2017 will be one to remember, especially, if you did not have access to an air conditioner. Across the U.S., it was the third hottest June on record – only beaten by the two preceding years of 2015 and 2016. The heat had the greatest impact across the Southwest, when a heat wave scorched the region between June 17 and 25, peaking just in time for the start of summer on the 20th and 21st.

What caused this excessive heat wave to occur? Stubborn high pressure, which acted like a lid over the region, preventing hot air from escaping.

Here are some extraordinary temperatures during the June heatwave:

  • Las Vegas, Nev. – 117 degrees on June 20 *All-time Record High*
  • Needles, Calif. – 125 degrees on June 20 *All-time Record High*
  • Palm Springs, Calif. – 122 degrees on June 20 *All-time Record High*
  • Phoenix, Ariz.– 119 degrees on June 20 *Daily Record High*
  • Ocotillo Wells, Calif. – 124 degrees on June 21 *Tied All-time Record High*
  • Death Valley, Calif. – 127 degrees on June 24 *Daily Record High*


June: Twin Cities Pounded by Hail

One of the largest single severe thunderstorms struck the Upper Midwest on June 11. The storm struck about 8:30 a.m., on a Sunday morning. Authorities believe the timing may have reduced the storm’s casualty count. Less people were out for recreational activities at that time than may have been later in the day.

Among the “highlights” from this storm:

  • Hailstones to the size of baseballs in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minn., Twin Cities area. The hail piled up like snow, requiring snow plows to clear the streets of the summertime “white stuff.”
  • 2 people were injured, but fortunately no fatalities were reported.
  • A gust to 80 mph was reported in Litchfield, Minn., while Richfield saw gusts to 69 mph.
  • The storm was possibly the third-costliest in Minnesota history, with insurance claims exceeding $1 billion.


July: Deadly Flooding

For many parts of the U.S., July is typically one of the drier months of the year. However, for a few spots, this was not a typical year as the rains came fast and furious. Our Outdoor Alerting Systems were hard at work moving people out of harm’s way.

  • On July 12-13, an area of high pressure built across the south-central part of the nation. This weather pattern, known as a “ring of fire,” often produces waves of thunderstorms across the Upper Midwest. That day, several rounds of thunderstorms tracked around the northern periphery of the high.  They brought heavy-rain-producing thunderstorms to Wisconsin and Illinois. Southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois saw the brunt of these thunderstorms. Kenosha, Wis., and Waukegan, Ill., saw as much as 6 to 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. This created major flash flooding and river flooding on Illinois’ Des Plaines and Fox rivers, cresting nearly 12 feet above flood stage.
  • Just a few days later, the Southwest monsoon showed its ugly face bringing tropical moisture northward from the Gulf of California and Mexico.  Southeast Arizona took the brunt of this weather phenomena on July 17. Thunderstorms brought very heavy rainfall, some falling as rapidly as 2 to 3 inches per hour. A family was at a popular swimming hole near Phoenix for a birthday party that day, unaware of the building danger upstream. When the 6-foot tall wall of water hit the Cold Springs pond, it swept away everything in its path, including logs, tree trunks, mud, debris, and swimmers. Of the 14 people in that family there for the afternoon, nine lost their lives and four others were rescued by helicopter.


August: The Day the Sky Turned Dark

This summer brought an out-of-this-world experience to the United States, with the first total solar eclipse to traverse the nation from coast-to-coast in 99 years on August 21. While a narrow band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina witnessed totality, the entire country saw the moon partially cross the sun that day.

Thanks to the extended area seeing the eclipse, scientists were able to conduct research on the sun, including a series of NASA jets that followed the path of totality. The aim is to learn more about the corona, a layer of the sun responsible for dangerous solar flares, which is only visible during total eclipses.

The weather was sunny across much of the country, with clear skies in the West and East, and a few clouds in the Midwest. With the good weather conditions, viewing parties were a common experience that day, including the first-of-their-kind totality delays during a handful of minor league baseball games.

While this may have been the first total solar eclipse in the U.S. since the 1990s, Americans won’t need to wait long for a similar eclipse. On April 8, 2024, the entire lower 48 will see a partial eclipse, while totality will occur in a strip extending from northwestern Mexico to northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Make sure you listen to our solar eclipse playlist during the 2024 event!

What About the End of the Year?

The last few months of 2017 were some of the most intense, weather-wise. Keep an eye out for our final blog post on 2017 weather this Friday. We’ll post the link here once it’s live. If you want it sent directly to your inbox, however, just press the button below to subscribe to our blog. It’s quick, easy, and the best way to ensure you never miss a piece of weather news from our team of meteorologists.