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Walls of water, flame, and snow: 2017's headline days

Caroline Floyd

Saturday, December 30, 2017, 16:13 - Weather, climate, and the environment snagged their fair share of headlines in 2017 -- sometimes it seemed like more than their fair share, as the country was battered by massive hurricanes, record-breaking fires, feet of snow, and frigid cold.

As we close out the year, we take a look at some of Mother Nature's feature days, both good and bad. 

Looking ahead | See when to 'look up!' with the winter's astronomy highlights

January 22 - Tornado Outbreak in the Southeast

One of the worst outbreaks of severe weather came very early in the year. The powerful storm system that rolled through central Georgia on the weekend of January 21 was responsible for 41 tornadoes across the state over the weekend, setting a record for the most recorded in a two day period. The storms, which were rated between EF-0 and EF-3, were responsible for 16 fatalities in the state. March 6 marked another significant day for the 2017 severe weather calendar, garnering the greatest number of severe weather reports across the country, including 79 tornadoes.

February 7 - Damage to Lake Oroville dam's main spillway

Flooding rains that drenched California in January and February led to a crisis in northern California when the Oroville Dam's main and emergency spillways were damaged. More than a foot of rain fell on the Feather River Basin in the days leading up to incident, which saw the emergency spillway used for the first time in the dam's history, after the lake level reached 901 ft above mean sea level. More than 180,000 people downstream were ordered to evacuate on February 12 after officials determined failure of the emergency spillway - due to faster-than-anticipated erosion - was imminent; an event that would have sent a 30 foot wall of water crashing down the river basin. While that failure, thankfully, didn't occur, repairs to the nation's tallest dam are expected to top $500 million.

June 1 - Trump Administration announces U.S. withdrawal from Paris Climate Accord

Citing concerns that the agreement would be detrimental to the U.S. economy, the President announced the United States would cease to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. The move leaves the U.S. as the only member of the 195-country United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change opposed to the agreement, which aims to limit increase in global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less. Under the terms of the agreement, the earliest date the country can officially withdraw is November 4, 2020 - four years after it went into effect in the U.S., and one day after the 2020 Presidential election.

August 21 - Day turns to night

For the first time since 1918, a total solar eclipse was visible across the entirety of the contiguous United States, in what the media dubbed "The Great American Eclipse." Running coast to coast from Oregon to South Carolina, the path of totality cut through 14 states, and the eclipse was visible to some extent from the Arctic to South America. Viewing events were staged across the country as millions flocked to see the moon blot out the sun, bathing viewers in darkness for more than 2 minutes at the point of greatest duration.

August and September - Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Maria

The 2017 hurricane season stormed its way into the record books, with 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes, 6 of them reaching category 3 or higher. Hurricane Harvey was the first to make a major impact on the United States, when it made landfall as a category 4 storm in Texas; the first major hurricane to strike the US since 2005, and the first category 4 storm to make landfall in Texas since 1961. Harvey would go on to top the charts as the costliest tropical cyclone on record for the country, racking up nearly $200 billion in damage as it deluged the Houston metro areas with up to 60 inches of rainfall.

Early September saw three active hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin, as Jose, Katia, and Irma swirled over ocean waters at the same time. Former-category 5 Irma caused catastrophic damage in the Virgin Islands, Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, and Anguilla, as well as causing extensive damage in Puerto Rico and Cuba, before it swamped southern Florida on September 10. Maria raged in on its heels, devastating Puerto Rico on September 20. All told, damage is estimated to run more than $369 billion - the most expensive hurricane season in U.S. history.

October 8 - Tubbs Fire ignites to burn through Napa, Sonoma counties

In what would go on to be the most destructive wildfire on the record books in California, the cause of the so-called "Tubbs Fire" is still under investigation. The fire, which sparked in Sonoma county, forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate and scorched nearly 37,000 acres, destroying 5,643 structures and causing 22 deaths before it was contained on October 31.

December 4 to ??? - Strong Santa Ana winds stoke massive SoCal fires

The year may be ending, but the California fire season continues. The "Thomas Fire" raged its way through the month to grab the title for largest-ever recorded fire in the state. The blaze, located northwest of Los Angeles, has consumed more than 280,000 acres and more than 1,000 structures since it roared to life on December 4 amid the strongest Santa Ana wind event of the season so far. Further south, the "Lilac Fire" in San Diego county burned through 4,100 acres in less than a week. The "Skirball Fire" torched 422 acres within the city of Los Angeles, including six homes in the affluent Bel-Air neighborhood. In the days leading up to New Year's Eve, fire weather conditions have improved somewhat, and the Thomas Fire finally stands at 92 per cent contained. Cal Fire officials said the fire region has not received any rainfall of more than 0.10 inches since February.

2017 proved to be the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever for California; 5 of the top 20 most destructive wildfires in the state's history burned between October and December. With six months left in the fiscal year, Cal Fire has already exceeded its firefighting budget for the year by $272 million.

December 8 - Rare snowfall sweeps the South

A once-per-decade event for many places, early December snowfall swept across the Gulf States, dusting residents from Texas to Florida with a wintry coating as cold air sunk south over the continent in what was a preview of things to come. Winter weather advisories stretched from Brownsville, Texas, to Boston, Massachusetts, as the storm worked its way across the country, leaving up to 7 inches of snow in parts of Texas and Alabama, and more than a foot of the white stuff west of Atlanta.

December 25 - Erie dreams of a White Christmas, gets a nightmare instead

Residents of Erie, Pennsylvania, must have dreamed pretty hard, because their 'White Christmas' was a doozy. Winds off the lake blasted Erie with 34 inches of lake-effect snow on Christmas Day alone - just part of a four-day event that dumped a staggering 65.1 inches on the city. The event smashed the 2-day snowfall record for the state. By December 30, Erie had measured 108.6 inches for the month (that's just over 9 feet). By contrast, the normal amount for December is (a still healthy) 25.3 inches.

December 31 - 2017's frosty parting shot

New Year's Eve will be one of the coldest on record for millions of Americans, as an icy Arctic chill grips most of the country east of the Rockies. With temperatures more than 15 F below average for most of the South, and a biting 40 F below average across the Midwest and Northeast, venturing out to ring in the new year will be difficult for many. Time Square will be close to the single-digits at midnight, with the wind chill making it feel closer to -10 for the iconic ball drop. But that's nothing compared to North Dakota, where wind chills closer to -50 are in the forecast. Even cities as far south as New Orleans, Houston, and Savannah will see the first seconds of 2018 in with below-freezing temperatures. The deep freeze, courtesy of a direct shot of air from Siberia, is expected to ease into the second week of the new year.

Watch Below: 2017 in review - Tornadoes across the nation

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