Mother Nature has been stirring up a lot of trouble this year. From the devastating hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico to the raging wildfires in California. Here in the Coulee Region, we also saw our fair share of extreme weather during 2017.
There is no question that the weather of 2017 has been record breaking across the country. Major hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and Maria were all part of the 7th most active hurricane season on record dating back to 1851. The ingredients to create hurricanes were amplified this entire season. Todd Shea, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in La Crosse recaps those ingredients by saying, "You need the warm water temperatures. You need the right air flow in the atmosphere, which is kind of just perfect in the tropics. And for some reason this year we've had a lot of those thunderstorm complexes that come off the coast of Africa."
Maybe most notable of all was Hurricane Harvey. It had humble beginnings as one of those thunderstorm complexes off of Africa before churning through the Gulf of Mexico and landing as a category 4 storm off the coast of Texas. Shea says, "The first one with Harvey was one that just kind of came right out of the Gulf and was a big rain producer. The others, storm surge, rain, and winds." Harvey dumped over sixty and a half inches of rain in Nederland, Texas with nearly forty-five inches in south Houston in just five days.
Between the hurricanes and California wildfires, hundreds of thousands of lives were disrupted or destroyed. Ginger Zee, the Chief Meteorologist for ABC News says, "I've been on the ground for these natural disasters where people have lost everything. And no matter what was going on in my personal life, I was able to go back and say, hold on, I just gained some major perspective. There are people who have lost their entire lives, their families, their friends."
We have seen our fair share of extreme weather between the bluffs this year, too. Martin Luther King Jr. Day spawned a freezing rain event that closed a few area schools for two days and caused numerous power outages. Some roadways were nearly impassable and it wasn't uncommon to pass a few cars in ditches even days after. Todd Shea says, "Temperatures around the area were actually below freezing, so what happens is when that rain comes out, it's actually coming out as liquid form and then as soon as it hits something that cold it freezes on it. Kind of a different type of atmospheric set up that produces those with different temperatures at different levels.
Once Old Man Winter vanished for the season, severe weather was quickly on his heels. One of the earliest tornadoes on record touched down in West Salem on March 6th as an EF-1 with peak winds of 100-110mph. Severe weather season ramped up from there and by mid May there was a plethora of thunderstorms and tornadoes to talk about. Todd mentions the event saying, "We had some tornado activity, we had some large hail in some communities; sporadic wind damage."
Another bout of severe weather on July 19th brought an EF-1 tornado through the heart of downtown McGregor, Iowa where some are still in the rebuilding process. Severe weather season ended quietly with no warnings issued in the month of August, which was the first time that has ever happened.
From August through early Fall, we were warm and very dry. August and September delivered six 90 degree days. Precipitation totals for both months were just over two inches when we really should have been expecting nearly six inches. South and east of La Crosse saw moderate to severe drought conditions through mid October.
The other "out of this world event" that topped the list of notable natural phenomena this year was the partial solar eclipse on August 21st. The partial solar eclipse in the area was just fifteen percent shy of putting the Coulee Region in the path of totality, otherwise known as a total solar eclipse.
With the new year almost upon us, you best believe Mother Nature is setting her weather resolution bar high. The best actions to take for yourselves in the new year are to stay aware of the forecast daily and be prepared with emergency plans no matter the season.