6 Surprising State Weather Records

Thomas Cooper/Getty Images
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.

7 Wintery Facts About Ice, Freezing Rain, and Sleet

Razvan Socol via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
Razvan Socol via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Whether you’re trying to fly across the country or you just want to buy groceries, a winter storm can have a significant impact on your life. But how can you tell if the ice, sleet, or freezing rain will prompt a winter weather advisory or a snow day from work? Here are a few facts about winter storm weather to help you prepare.

1. Freezing rain and sleet are a winter storm's silent hazards.

Ice in the form of freezing rain and sleet is just as big of a threat as snow, and often result in a winter weather advisory being issued for the affected region. Ice is arguably more dangerous than the fluffy white stuff. Snow is generally manageable: You can shovel it and plow it, and while others are doing the work, you can enjoy a snow day with a cup of hot cocoa. You can’t do that with ice.

For the most part, frozen water becomes solidly affixed to any exposed and untreated surface. There comes a point when ice is entirely unmanageable. Even a giant vehicle with four-wheel drive is useless when it can’t grip the surface it’s sliding on. Ice—mostly from freezing rain—is not only dangerous because of the associated travel hazards, but also because of the damage it can cause.

2. A winter storm with Freezing rain is dangerous.

Freezing rain is rain that freezes when it comes in contact with an exposed surface like a tree or a sidewalk. A small amount of freezing rain can leave a thin glaze of ice on just about any surface, creating a situation where surfaces that look wet are really icy instead. A steadier freezing rain will allow a crust of solid ice to form on trees and power lines, weighing them down to the point of breaking. Extreme ice accretions—over an inch—can cause significant damage and disrupt life for weeks at a time.

3. Freezing rain is actually melted snowflakes.

Freezing rain forms when there’s an inversion layer present during a winter storm. An inversion layer occurs when a layer of warm air gets sandwiched between two colder air masses. Snowflakes fall through the warm layer and completely melt before reentering the subfreezing air near the surface. This newly formed raindrop can’t freeze back into ice because it doesn’t have a nucleus around which to freeze, so the raindrop becomes supercooled, meaning it remains in liquid state even as its temperature drops below freezing. Once the supercooled raindrop reaches the ground, the water instantly freezes into ice.

4. All that ice from freezing rain is extremely heavy.

If you’ve ever had to carry a case of bottled water up a flight of stairs, you know that even a little bit of water is extremely heavy. Imagine even more weight on a much more fragile surface, and that’s what you get during an ice storm. Damage to trees can begin with just a quarter-inch of ice, with more damage to bigger and sturdier trees as the crust of ice grows thicker. The Weather Channel points out that just a half-inch of ice accretion on a standard power line can add 500 pounds of extra weight to the line and the poles supporting it. Extreme ice storms can cause as much damage as an intense tornado, as even a couple of inches of ice adds enough weight to crumple the tall steel transmission towers that carry high-voltage power lines—and those take a while to repair.

5. Sleet is freezing rain's annoying cousin. 

A close relative to freezing rain is sleet. Sleet, also known as ice pellets, forms through the same process as freezing rain. Snowflakes destined to become sleet also fall through a warm layer of air, but one that isn’t deep enough to melt the snowflake completely. Once the partially melted snowflake enters subfreezing air, there are still a couple of ice crystals left in the raindrop that allow the raindrop to freeze into a little ball of ice before reaching the ground. The result is an ice pellet about the size of half a grain of rice that makes a distinctive tinking noise as it bounces off cars, vegetation, and roofs.

6. Sleet is like snow that freezes solid. 

Sleet looks like snow and it accumulates like snow. It’s easy to mistake sleet for snow if you’re not a hardcore weather geek, but with enough accumulation, even the casual observer will know something is different pretty quickly. Sleet has a nasty habit of freezing into solid ice within a few hours of falling, especially if the Sun comes out or if temperatures briefly rise above freezing once the precipitation stops. Once this hardening occurs, it can be next to impossible to remove it from sidewalks, driveways, and roads until there’s a major thaw. In the southeastern United States, sleet is particularly common (and problematic), since the region is prone to warm air intruding on its winter storms and many municipalities don’t have enough snow equipment to clear the roads before that sleet freezes solid.

7. When a winter storm warning is issued, join the grocery lines.

Everyone makes fun of the throngs of panicked shoppers before a snowstorm, but stocking up on groceries before a winter storm is a pretty good idea for even the biggest cynic. If freezing rain knocks out power for an extended period of time, stores and restaurants will be forced to close until power is restored and they get fresh shipments of food. If that happens, you’re pretty much on your own for food and drink until conditions improve. Before a storm arrives, make sure you get plenty of food and beverages that you don’t have to cook or keep fresh.

Lake Michigan Has Frozen Over, and It's an Incredible Sight

Scott Olson, Getty Images
Scott Olson, Getty Images

A polar vortex has brought deadly temperatures to the Midwest this week, and the weather is having a dramatic effect on one of the region's most famous features. As the Detroit Free Press reports, parts of Lake Michigan have frozen over, and the ice coverage continues to grow.

The Lake Michigan ice extent has increased rapidly throughout January, starting around 1 percent on the first of the month and expanding to close to 40 percent by the end of the month. Yesterday was the coldest January 30 in Chicago history, with temperatures at O'Hare Airport dropping to -23°F. Even though it's frozen, steam can be seen rising off Lake Michigan—something that happens when the air above the lake is significantly colder than the surface. You can watch a stream of this happening from a live cam below.

Lake Michigan's ice coverage is impressive, as these pictures show, but it's still far from breaking a record. Though Lake Michigan has never frozen over completely, it came close during the winter of 1993 to 1994 when ice reached 95 percent coverage.

Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana aren't the only places that have been hit hard by the cold this winter. At the United States/Canada border, Niagara Falls froze to a stop in some spots, a phenomenon that also produced some stunning photographs.


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[h/t Detroit Free Press]

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