- As with all years, 2021 established numerous weather records.
- This year saw eye-popping records for cold, heat and drenching rains.
All-time United States weather records were set for a wide range of extreme weather in 2021, covering everything from temperatures parts of the country have never seen before to astonishing rainfall totals and a hurricane that gave us déjà vu.
Here’s a look at 10 record-breaking moments that shocked meteorologists from the beginning to the end.
1. February Cold Breaks Dozens Of All-Time Records
A cold outbreak occurred in 2021. It was one of the most memorable in over 100 years of U.S. weather records.
Arctic air that originated from Siberia was a factor in all-time cold records being broken at 219 locations across the central states between February 11-19. They were set from North Dakota and Wisconsin, through Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. According to NOAA Additional daily records were broken every day.
Leading the way was Bottineau, North Dakota, which recorded an air temperature – not a wind chill – of minus 51 degrees on Feb. 13, toppling their previous all-time low of minus 50 which had stood for 128 years.
Other notable all time lows included Owen (Wisconsin) and Spearfish, South Dakota (3-3). Sioux City in Iowa (minus 28 twice in a row; a tie); Lawton Oklahoma (12); and Tyler Texas (6).
Although not all-time records Dallas-Fort Worth (minus2) and Oklahoma City (minus14) had their coldest temperatures since 1949, 1899, and respectively.
This was also the most expensive U.S. winter event since at least 1980 due to the cold outbreak and associated winter storms February 10-19. The weather pattern caused $21Billion in damage according to NOAA. It is the most expensive winter weather phenomenon in its database.
2. Northwest Heat Wave Breaks All-Time Records
The U.S. experienced one of the most extreme heat waves it has ever seen in the early summer. A strong bubble of high pressure was formed over the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, and lasted until June.
All-time record highs in any given day were set at dozens locations from Washington and Oregon, all the way to Northern California.
Portland, Oregon, set an all-time record for three consecutive days. The culmination was a mind-boggling heat of 116 degrees on Sunday, June 28. Its previous all-time record at airport was 107.
Seattle reached 108 on June 28 and easily beat its previous record of 103 in 2009.
Lytton, British Columbia, north of Canada’s border, reached an amazing 121.3 on June 29, a record that preliminarily surpassed the all-time high for the entire country.
3. Record-breaking Southwest Monsoon
The Southwest witnessed a monsoon rainfall turnaround in 2021. It was a record-breaking event.
According to the National Weather Service, Phoenix, this year’s monsoon was the wettest ever recorded for the area that stretches from Arizona to New Mexico and southwest Texas. This is an incredible example of weather whiplash – 2020 was the driest monsoon of record for the same area.
July was the wettest month in the entire region, and it was also the second-wettest recorded for Arizona.
Tucson, Arizona, was soaked by 8.06 inches (record) of rain in July. This is the most rainfall for any month in Tucson’s weather history since the late-1800s.
4. Record Hottest Summer
According to NOAA, Summer 2021 was the hottest summer in 126 years of records for contiguous U.S.A.
The average temperature in the Lower 48 was 74 degrees from June to August, which is 2.6 degrees higher than the average. This barely surpassed the Dust Bowl summer 1936 for the top spot, which was 0.01 degrees lower.
California, Idaho and Nevada all enjoyed a record-breaking summer. Additional 21 states also had the top-10 hottest summers, ranging from the Front Ranges of the Rockies and Northern Plains to Great Lakes and Northeast.
Summer 2021 was marked by a record-breaking June in the Lower 48. This was followed by the 13th and 14th-hottest Augusts, respectively.
Only parts of the South managed to avoid a scorching summer.
5. Record-Tying Strongest Hurricane Landfall Déjà Vu in Louisiana
Hurricane Ida was the strongest hurricane (by windspeed) to hit the Pelican States when it made landfall Aug. 29, as a strong Category 4.
Ida sustained maximum winds of 150 mph as it crossed the coast near Port Fourchon. Only two other hurricanes – 2020’s Laura and the Last Island 1856 hurricane – had wind speeds that strong at landfall in Louisiana.
It is rare to see Category 4 landfalls within the Lower 48. This made it extremely unusual for them to occur in the same year. It was a first for the state that Laura and Ida had their Category 4 landfalls almost exactly one-year apart.
6. New York City Record-Breaking Hour of Rain
New York City’s Central Park experienced its highest rainfall in just one hour after tropical moisture from Hurricane Ida was combined with a previously stalled Northeast front.
On Sept. 1, the Big Apple received 3.15 inches of rain in 60 minutes. This easily topped the previous known record of 2.48 inchesIn an hour set 95 year ago.
Storm total rainfall for the day was 7.13 inches, well over the average rainfall for the entire month – 4.31 inches.
The torrential rain caused severe flooding in New York City, and other parts of Northeast.
7. Death Valley’s Late Summer Heat Is a First on the Planet
California’s Death Valley is widely considered one of the hottest places in the world. It was also the scene of a record-breaking late-summer heat wave.
On Sept. 7, the temperature in the desert of Southern California soared to 122°F (50°C). According to Christopher Burt (a weather historian), this was the highest ever summer season temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. It was measured in both the Northern hemisphere and Southern hemispheres.
It wasn’t the only record set by Death Valley during the heatwave.
Two days later, a low of 102 degrees was recorded at a weather station close to Badwater Basin. This was the hottest September daytime low temperature.
(MORE: Global Records Set in Late Season Heat Wave)
8. Sacramento’s Whiplash, Dry to Soaked
California’s capital city has gone from having a long dry streak to experiencing its wettest day in about one week.
October 17 marked the end to a dry stretch of 212 days in Sacramento, when it received one-hundredths of an inch of rain.
A week later, on October 24, a powerful storm tapped into an atmospheric river of moisture and delivered too much of a bad thing. The 5.44 inches of rain Sacramento received in the soaking made it the city’s wettest day on record, dating back to 1849.
Flooding was caused by excessive rainfall during the storm in Sacramento and other parts of California.
9. Atmospheric River Delivers Alaskan Drenching
Alaska joined California with an atmosphere river soaking of its very own as the calendar changed from October to November.
Portage Glacier Visitor Center – located about an hour southeast of Anchorage in south-central Alaska – picked up 22.35 inches of rain in three days from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1.
Only Little Port Walter in southeast Alaska’s rainforest region has experienced a higher three-day total of rainfall in the state. It received more than 23 inches of rain in just three days in November 1993 and December 1964.
The record-breaking three day total of soaking at Portage Glacier Visitor Center was set in the 49th State.
10. December sets a record for the most severe weather reports
In the last month of the year, severe weather dominated headlines, not snow.
Multiple severe weather events produced more than 1000 reports of tornadoes and damaging winds in the first half December.
According to NOAA Storm Prediction Center, that’s the most recorded for a month since at least 2000. The record for December 2002 was 645 severe weather reports.
Historical severe weather was experienced, including a tornado that killed many in the Midwest and South Dec. 10, 10 and 11. Two preliminary EF4-rated twisters, which were most destructive, were created by the same supercell storm. They were both produced from northeast Arkansas to Kentucky.
A few days later on Dec. 15, a derecho raged across the Plains and Upper Midwest, producing widespread destructive winds and tornadoes from parts Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, southern Minnesota, and western Wisconsin.
This region experienced unusually severe weather in December, thanks to a powerful storm that brought record-breaking warm air.
The outbreak saw more severe weather reports than ever before, with more than 450 total. This is the highest number of severe weather reports in December since 2000. Minnesota also had its severe weather reports. first confirmed December tornado in records dating to 1950.
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