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6 Surprising State Weather Records

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Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Something that truly unites all Americans is the belief that their home town lays claim to some of the worst weather in the country. Residents of nearly every state often repeat the joke that if you don't like the weather there, just wait five minutes and it'll change. Most of our exciting weather is rather ordinary, if not short-lived, but some events really are so extreme that they wind up in the record books. Here are some states where the weather was anything but ordinary.

1. MAINE: A RECORD NUMBER OF TORNADOES

Maine is pretty close to the bottom of the list when you think of states that are prone to tornadoes. Just like every other state, though, Maine's rugged landscape isn't immune to torrents that can produce wicked damage. A powerful outbreak of thunderstorms on July 5, 2017, produced five separate tornadoes across Maine, setting a new record for the most tornadoes to ever touch down in one day in this northeastern state.

While this was a relatively bad day in Maine, it pales in comparison to the most tornadoes to ever touch down in one day. More than 200 tornadoes touched down on April 27, 2011, mainly across Mississippi and Alabama, in what became one of the worst tornado outbreaks in recorded history.

2. NEW HAMPSHIRE: THE TOP WINDS ON A MOUNTAINTOP

New Hampshire's Mount Washington is famous for the extreme weather that tests the resolve of hardy scientists who work at its peak. The observatory at the top of Mount Washington has seen some of the worst weather imaginable, including the strongest wind gust ever directly recorded in the United States. (This was the global record as well until 1996, when a wind gust hit 253 mph in Australia during Typhoon Olivia.)

Scientists measured a 231 mph wind gust on the afternoon of April 12, 1934, as a storm system roared its way across New England. The observatory's intense winds are attributable to the fact that it lies more than 6000 feet above sea level, exposing it to the powerful atmospheric winds that make intense storm systems possible.

3. TEXAS: THE RAINIEST DAY EVER

Hurricanes are a fearsome weather catastrophe, but weaker tropical cyclones—tropical depressions and tropical storms—can cause just as much damage through the sheer amount of water they can bring ashore. No one understands this more than the residents of the small town of Alvin, Texas, which set the record for the most rain ever recorded in a 24-hour period. A weather observer in Alvin measured 42 inches of rain between the mornings of July 25 and July 26, 1979, as Tropical Storm Claudette swirled ashore. Records show that there may have been even more rainfall in Alvin as the rain gauge began overflowing at one point.

4. ALABAMA: THE WETTEST MAJOR CITY

The Pacific Northwest has a deserved reputation when it comes to constant rainfall. Seattle, Washington, sees rain on more than 150 days each year, but when it does rain there, the precipitation is on the lighter side; it's often an annoying drizzle.

But if you want real rainfall in a cityscape, head down to Mobile, Alabama, which is the rainiest major city in the contiguous United States in terms of yearly average rainfall. This city on the northern Gulf Coast typically sees more than five feet of rain every year. There are plenty of places that see more rain annually; Maple Valley, Washington, for instance, gets more than seven feet of rain a year. On the other hand, only 22,000 people live there. For the biggest rainy impact on the largest number of people, Mobile—home to just under 200,000—takes the cake.

5. MISSOURI: THE COSTLIEST HAILSTORM IN HISTORY

A pang of fear strikes through the stomachs of every car- and homeowner when a barrage of hail begins falling from the sky. It doesn't take much hail to cause a lot of damage, and the damage gets exponentially worse as the hailstones tick up in size. Parts of central Missouri and Illinois saw the costliest hailstorm ever recorded [PDF] back in April 2001, when a supercell thunderstorm dropped hail up to the size of baseballs over a path more than 240 miles long.

The hail damaged hundreds of thousands of buildings, tens of thousands of vehicles, and even caused substantial damage to more than two dozen airplanes at the airport in St. Louis. Once the skies cleared and residents tallied the damage, they found that the storm caused more than $1.5 billion in insured losses.

6. COLORADO: THE BIGGEST ONE-DAY SNOWFALL ON RECORD

If you love the cold and just can't get enough snow in the winter, there are few places you want to be more than the Rocky Mountains. The bitter cold, constant stream of storms, and jagged terrain create the perfect conditions for gobs of snow to fall all at once. A weather reporting station at Silver Lake, Colorado, nestled in the mountains west of Boulder, caught the jackpot one day nearly a hundred years ago. The town recorded more than six feet of snow—75.8 inches, to be precise—in the 24-hour period between April 14 and April 15, 1921. That's some deep powder.

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Weather Watch
3 Ways We Can (Kind of) Control the Weather, and 5 Ways We Can't

Humans have the incredible ability to control the world around us. We can move mountains and land robots on other planets. We can keep each other alive longer than ever before and even bring entire species back from the brink of extinction. But despite all of our leaps forward, we're still unable to control the weather, a tremendous force that affects every human being on this planet. Still, humans have come up with some pretty crafty ways of influencing the weather—in small doses.

1. WE CAN MAKE IT RAIN … SOMEWHAT.

The desire to control weather has been a mainstay of imagination since, well, the beginning of imagination. The fortunes of entire societies can hinge on flood or drought. We have strong motivation to want to create a rainstorm in one spot or moderate snowfall in another. But the greatest success we've ever had is a technique that can (maybe) encourage a tiny bit of rain to form over a tiny area.

Cloud seeding is a process through which fine particles like silver iodide are released into a cloud in order to encourage the formation of rain or snow. These particulates serve as a nucleus around which water vapor can condense and turn into a raindrop or a snowflake. This is most commonly done with small airplanes, but it can also be accomplished by launching tiny rockets or flares from the ground.

In theory, the practice of cloud seeding could have innumerable uses around the world, including crop maintenance, providing drinking water, and even possibly weakening severe thunderstorms or hurricanes. There's only one problem: It doesn't work all that well.

The effectiveness of cloud seeding is a hot topic of debate among scientists, but most studies have either found negligible impacts on precipitation, or the researchers were unable to determine the exact impact of cloud seeding. Cloud seeding is a great concept if you want to help one cloud produce a little extra rain or snow just to say you can do it, but it's not the way to go if you're desperate and want to trigger a deluge. This process requires the pre-existing presence of clouds, so even if the technology improves in the future, it's not a viable solution for drought-stricken areas that haven't seen meaningful clouds in weeks.

2. WE CAN DEFINITELY ATTRACT LIGHTNING USING ROCKETS.

Lightning safety is one of the things you learn from a very young age. "When thunder roars, go indoors," as the motto goes. We learn to stay away from open areas and water during thunderstorms. But what if you wanted to attract lightning? It's surprisingly easy to do if you have the right equipment and really, really want to encounter some of nature's fury.

Scientists who want to study lightning can bring it right to their doorstep by using specially designed rockets attached to conductive wires that lead to the ground below. When a thunderstorm blows over the observation station, operators can launch these rockets up into the clouds to trigger a lightning strike that follows the wire right down to the ground where the rocket was launched. Voila, instant lightning. Just add rocket fuel.

3. WE CAN CREATE CLOUDS AND HEAT—EVEN WHEN WE DON'T MEAN TO.

Most of the ways in which we control—or, more accurately, influence—the weather is through indirect human actions—often unintentional. "Whoops, the nuclear power plant just caused a snowstorm" isn't as crazy as it sounds. Steam stacks can and do produce clouds and updrafts with enough intensity to create rain or snow immediately downwind. The very presence of cities can generate microclimates with warmer temperatures and heavier rain. And there's also climate change, the process in which our accumulated actions over a long period of time are influencing the very climate itself.

BUT WE CAN'T DO THE FIVE FOLLOWING THINGS.

Despite our limited ability to influence a few aspects of weather over small areas, there are some rather colorful conspiracy theories about whether or not governments and organizations are telling the whole truth about how much we can accomplish with today's technology. There are folks who insist that the trails of condensed water vapor, or "contrails," left behind jet aircraft are really chemicals being sprayed for sinister purposes. (They're not.) There are theories that a high-frequency, high-power array of antennas deep in the Alaskan wilderness can control every weather disaster in the world. (It doesn't.) There are even folks who insist that Doppler weather radar carries enough energy to "zap" storms into existence on demand. (Dr. Evil wishes.)

There are also some bizarre and unworkable theories that are offered in good faith. A meteorologist a few years ago opined on whether building an excessively tall wall across middle America could disrupt weather patterns that could lead to tornado activity. And every year the National Hurricane Center is peppered with questions about whether or not detonating nuclear bombs in a hurricane would disrupt the storm's structure. Unfortunately, while pseudoscience offers up great theories to test in the movies, when it comes to weather, we're still not in control.

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Weather Watch
NASA Figures Out Why When It Rains, It (Sometimes) Drizzles
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What’s the difference between drizzle and rain? It has to do with updrafts, according to new research by NASA scientists into the previously unexplained phenomenon of why drizzle occurs where it does.

The answer, published in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, could help improve how weather and climate models treat rainfall, making predictions more accurate.

Previously, climate researchers thought that drizzle could be explained by the presence of aerosols in the atmosphere. The microscopic particles are present in greater quantities over land than over the ocean, and by that logic, there should be more drizzle over land than over the ocean. But that's not the case, as Hanii Takahashi and her colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory found. Instead, whether or not rain becomes full droplets or stays as a fine drizzle depends on updrafts—a warm current of air that rises from the ground.

Stronger updrafts keep drizzle droplets (which are four times smaller than a raindrop) floating inside a cloud longer, allowing them to grow into full-sized rain drops that fall to the ground in the splatters we all know and love. In weaker updrafts, though, the precipitation falls before the drops form, as that light drizzle. That explains why it drizzles more over the ocean than over land—because updrafts are weaker over the ocean. A low-lying cloud over the ocean is more likely to produce drizzle than a low-lying cloud over land, which will probably produce rain.

This could have an impact on climate modeling as well as short-term weather forecasts. Current models make it difficult to model future surface temperatures of the Earth while still maintaining accurate projections about the amount of precipitation. Right now, most models that project realistic surface temperatures predict an unrealistic amount of drizzle in the future, according to a NASA statement. This finding could bring those predictions back down to a more realistic level.

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