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Your top weather events of 2020: a record-setting year

Wednesday, December 30th 2020, 6:00 am - The world faced a lot this year, and not just the COVID-19 pandemic. Major weather events, like wildfires and hurricanes, swept 2020 with record-breaking seasons.

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Oh 2020, what are we going to do with you? Change you into 2021 and call it a year? We're sure we can all say in perfect unison, "yes!"

Not only has the world faced a historical pandemic, but the year was filled with extreme weather events.

From record-breaking wildfires and hurricanes to aggressive tornadoes and unusual temperature patterns, the world packed some attitude this year. In every natural disaster or tragedy comes the silver lining; humanity. This year has been hard, but it's incredible to see what people can do when we work together.

This is your 2020 worldwide weather year-in-review.


Australian Wildfires + Australian Open

Australia's bushfire season was abnormally active, peaking in December 2019 and January 2020.

Almost 80 per cent of Australians were affected either directly or indirectly. By January 7, the smoke moved across the South Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina.

The smoke created unhealthy air conditions that affected several tennis players in the Australian Open.

Dalila Jakupovic, from Slovenia, had to forfeit the match as she suffered from a coughing fit whilst trying to play.

As of March 9, the fires burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares, destroyed over 5,900 buildings and killed at least 34 people.

The bushfires also killed at least 5,000 koalas and destroyed 24 per cent of the koala habitat on public lands.

All fires were extinguished completely in early May.


Brazilian rainfall highest in 110 years

On January 17, 2020, heavy rainfall led to flash flooding and landslides in Southeast Brazil.

More than 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes. In the city of Belo Horizonte, 171 mm of rain fell within 24-hours; the highest amount in 110 years.

Floods and mudslides in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Floods and mudslides in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Courtesy of HVL/Wikipedia/CC BY 4.0

The floods and landslides led to collapsed bridges and damaged roads. Over 100 cities declared a state of emergency. The rain and subsequent events led to 70 deaths.


St. Patrick’s Day tornado warnings in Hawaii

Tornado warnings in Hawaii are rare. The last one was in 2008.

The first warning was called for the island of Niihau In Kauai County at 1:22 a.m. HST. Niihau is the westernmost island, but according to the 2010 census, only has 170 residents.

The second tornado warning was issued for Kauai in Kauai County at 5:49 a.m. HST. There was an intense area of rotation that was moving onshore. Kauai is the most populated island of Hawaii, with 67,091 residents, also according to the 2010 census.

The tornado warnings were a part of the “Kona storm." The storm dropped more than 508 mm rain on the highest peaks on Kauai, with most areas getting 127 to 203 mm of rain.

APRIL 12 & 13

Easter US tornado outbreak

During Easter weekend there was a 10-state tornado breakout. Around 1.44 million customers lost electricity as there also storms that led to flooding and mudslides.

Between April 12 and 13, 140 tornadoes touched down across 10 states. The strongest tornado was in Southern Mississippi, producing estimated winds of 310 km/h.

EF4 damage to a two-story house to the northeast of Nixville, South Carolina. EF4 damage to a two-story house near Nixville, South Carolina. Courtesy of NOAA

Many people had to spend their weekends in shelters. Five states declared a state of emergency, but relief efforts were complicated by social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In central Georgia, a twister lifted a house, mostly intact, and dropped it in the middle of a road.

Tate Reeves, Mississippi’s governor, said that the storms were “as bad or worse than anything we’ve seen in a decade."

EF2 damage to a house in Sumac, Georgia. EF2 tornado damage to a house in Sumac, Georgia. Courtesy of NWS Peachtree City, GA/Wikipedia

The tornado outbreak caused a total of 32 fatalities, making it the deadliest tornado outbreak since April 27–30, 2014.


Mother’s Day record cold and snow

Mother's Day in Eastern, Midwestern, and Southern USA had a very cold celebration this year.

Van Wert, Ohio, plunged to 18 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius) on May 9, the first time it has dropped so low in May in the last 127 years.

There was even snow in New York City, making it the latest snowfall in spring since 1977.

An area near the Vermont-New York border reported one foot of new snow Saturday morning.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maine also reported snow.

Following six weeks after this freezing Mother's Day was a heatwave.


Rare derecho

A derecho is a straight-lined, long-lived, widespread wind storm that comes with severe thunderstorms and hurricanic and tornado forces.

On June 6, a derecho tracked 1,239 kilometres from South Dakota to Ohio and Michigan. The storm lasted 14 hours. Maximum wind gusts reached 203 km/h. Aside from aggressive winds, the storm packed torrential rain and large hail.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted that this was only the third derecho in the Rockies.

In NOAA's October review, this storm was included in their billion-dollar disasters database. The storm cost approximately $7.5 billion, making it the costliest single-day thunderstorm to strike the U.S. since 1980.


‘Godzilla' dust cloud reaches Caribbean

On June 23rd, a massive Sahara dust cloud blanketed the Caribbean. A dust cloud of that size and concentration hadn't been seen in half a century.

“This is the most significant event in the past 50 years,” said Pablo Méndez Lázaro, a professor of environmental health at the University of Puerto Rico. “Conditions are dangerous in many Caribbean islands.”

It was the experts who nicknamed the event "Godzilla" dust cloud as most of the region's air quality reached “hazardous” levels. It was recommended that everyone stay inside and use air filters if they had them.

The dust plume made it all the way to parts of the Midwest in the The States.


UK temperature record

The UK has had its longest stretch of temperatures exceeding 34 Celsius since the 1960s when the records began.

“It’s not often we get temperatures this high over several days, and that is triggering thunderstorms across parts of England and Wales," said Greg Dewhurst, a meteorologist from UK’s national weather service.

“If rain is falling on places that have been quite hot and dry, and the ground is quite hard, the rain doesn’t have anywhere to go, and from that we can see flash flooding," Dewhurst explained.

More than 150 million litres of extra water were pumped into the UK.


Campers rescued from California wildfires and gender reveal mishap

On September 4, a wildfire broke out near Shaver Lake, California. The fire, dubbed Creek Fire, trapped 287 people who were camping in the area. Military helicopters came to rescue them. The Creek Fire burned 153,738 hectares of land.

creek wildfire sierra national forest by Ryan Waugh Creek Fire ablaze in the Sierra National Forest, California. Credit: Sierra National Forest/ Ryan Waugh

"The situation only can be described as just hellish conditions out there for those poor people," reported Tyson Pogue, the Madera County's Sheriff.

The next day, another fire broke out, dubbed the El Dorado Fire. This fire burned 9,204 hectares of land.

Officials determined that the cause of the fire was a gender-reveal party. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officially reported that the fire was sparked by a "smoke generating pyrotechnic device" used during a gender reveal party in San Bernadino County.

The fire claimed the life of a firefighter.

California's 2020 wildfire season was a record-breaker. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported that over 1.7 million hectares of land were burned.


Record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season

The Atlantic hurricane season was the most active season yet. It was fueled by a La Niña that developed in the summer of 2020.

The season was packed with 31 sub-tropical named cyclones. Of those storms, 13 developed into hurricanes, and six intensified into major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

Considering the number of named storms surpassed the number of letters in the English alphabet, the storm names continued into the Greek alphabet. This is only the second time this has happened, the first occurred in 2005.


On November 10, it was Tropical Storm Theta that pushed 2020 into the top spot for the most named storms in a season.

Both Hurricane Eta and Iota were in the Atlantic basin at the same time, which is the first time this has occurred since records began.

The record-breaking hurricane season was the seventh most costly season, with damages amounting to $46.906 billion (2020 USD). The storms killed a total of 431 people.

And that's a wrap! 2020 in a weather nutshell. This has been "This Day In Weather History"'s first year. We loving looking into weather past to re-surface all sorts of weather-related events. From hurricanes and cyclones to sporting events and rocket launches, we look into the endless impacts that weather has on our daily lives, both on this planet and beyond.

Listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History" to hear the full roundup of 2020's international weather events. Check out the episode on December 31, 2020, to hear a roundup of Canada's 2020 weather events.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by The Weather Network that features unique and informative stories from host Chris Mei.

Thumbnail: Bobcat Fire in Monrovia, CA, September 10, 2020. Courtesy of Eddiem360/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

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