Last February, I started this post about weather extremes. I planned on finishing as soon as the weather settled down. Six months later, I’m still waiting.
Living in England for so long, we found that if anything, the English tend to be especially preoccupied about the weather, which does have a tendency to change without warning in England. When asked by the English how I like their weather, I used to to reply that I like English weather better than American weather, because it lacked the uncomfortable extremes. This was usually not an acceptable answer, apparently being received as yet another example of American braggadocio. Totally disregarding my social need for climactic parity, 18 months after our return to the US, the weather continues to be a lot harsher than I remember from my first 40 years here.
Narrowly missing December 2009 snowstorms in England and Virginia, last season’s harsh weather finally caught up to me in Ohio, with a storm compared to the epic blizzards of the late 70s giving me and the Subaru a refresher course in snow driving. The first half of Virginia’s record snowfall started during my return drive on Jan 30. It started snowing during the day on Friday, 5 February 2010, and didn’t stop until Saturday night. The fourth largest snowfall on record for DC (as measured at the airport), everyone in Vienna/Reston feels that this was a bigger snow than the ’96 storm. We had about 28 inches here, which brought motorized life to a near standstill.
Unprecedented snowfall was followed by an unusually warm and short spring. After at least 2 weeks without any frost, I decided to plant my first set of tomatoes 2 weeks early. They did fine, and the frost didn’t return until November, making for about an 8 month growing season. Although there were periods of heavy rain, precipitation was on the low side for the year, and the long hot summer meant that neither green beans nor limas produced any fruit until September.
The entire eastern half of the country experienced extremely violent weather during the summer, with tornado-producing fronts working their way across the continent over a period of days. We never saw any tornadoes, although we had a number of violent little storms, and I was close to a tornado in Chatauqua, NY (3 blog posts from last July with storm videos).
2011 did not see any DC area records for snowfall, but we did have one memorably harsh snowstorm that snarled traffic for hours, and stranded many people overnight. Dropping bad snow on top of worse, it hit just before rush hour, creating impossible driving conditions in much of the DC area, which many police and bus drivers were quoted as saying were the worst that they’d ever seen. The heavier snows the previous years had not resulted in as many power outages (650,000) nor had they resulted in 8 hour commuting times.
The blizzard of late January 2011 did result in record snow falls for NYC. They were still shoveling the place out when Elizabeth and I arrived a couple days later to celebrate our anniversary. We’d already spent a very cold January day in Ohio, meeting Sam the builder, Sheldon the excavator, and several other interested parties as we decided exactly where to put the cabin. This was followed by a miserably rainy day in February while I followed the surveyors around the northern and eastern boundary of our property. Both of those trips were punctuated by memorably snowy evenings in the Millersburg Comfort Inn, watching the pickup trucks sliding around SR 83.
After last year’s early and short spring, I started my vegetable garden on March 1, and planted my tomatoes and squash early. The spring garden had a bumper crop of peas, spinach and lettuce, the last of which was pretty much gone by June. Meanwhile, the country was experiencing its worst ever outbreak of tornadoes from April 25-28. I watched the Weather Channel in morbid fascination as a deadly tornado raked across the northern side of Birmingham, Alabama. Heroic work by the National Weather Service and local media meant sufficient warning so that the highest ever level of tornado damage was not accompanied by the highest level of tornado fatalities.
Besides all that, it rained. A lot. Parts of the Mississippi and Missouri river basins saw the worst flooding in almost 80 years, and the Corps of Engineers was forced to deliberately flood some communities to save others. We had hoped to start construction of our Ohio cabin in March, but heavy rains in the central part of the state delayed our start. Photo club friend Tom Shevock and I went on a photoshoot on March 3 along the Potomac Valley. After a couple hours of pouring rain, we had lunch in Brunswick, MD and called it quits. It turned out to be the rainiest day in 44 years of record-keeping at nearby Dulles Airport.
In May, it was recognized in Ohio as the worst farming season in over 50 years, and it has continued to rain since then. Although none of the individual floods have approached the violence of the July 4th 1969 flood, Elizabeth has seen the Killbuck over its banks during several spring trips back to Ohio.
July set heat records across large swaths of the USA. Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and previously battered and now fried Arkansas all experienced record high temperatures and set multiple records for highest highs, highest lows, and highest consecutive temperatures. Northern, VA had what was probably the hottest July ever recorded, and an all time record high of 105 was set at Dulles Airport. Spending 3 weeks in Ohio, where it was merely well above average, I missed the worst of the heat, but Kirk and Elizabeth reported that the A/C seemed to be struggling.
Although many parts of the country have had noteworthy levels of rain, other parts are suffering unprecedented levels of drought. The US Drought Monitor shows virtually all of Texas and large parts of the south as experiencing extreme to exceptional levels of drought, while a swath from Ohio through Kentucky and Tennessee shows as a drought free area between two abnormally dry areas (what the map does not show is how abnormally wet Ohio has been). Although we continue to have heavy showers in Northern, VA, it isn’t enough water, especially in all this heat, to keep us from away from the edge of a moderate drought.
The good thing about the weather is that there is always something to talk about.