2007: A Year of Freezes, Hurricanes, and Deadly Tornadoes

Andrew Rosenthal
WeatherBug Meteorologist

From hurricanes to tornadoes, freezes to lake-effect snow, the world of weather in 2007 brought plenty of surprises. Here's a look back at some of the noteworthy weather events of the past year.

Devastating Freeze: 2007 got off to a frosty start, as a strong blast of arctic air dropped into southern California in January. Snow levels dropped to their lowest levels in decades, and snowflakes were even reported falling in the beach community of Malibu. Downtown Los Angeles recorded a low of 36 degrees on January 17, while inland Lancaster, Calif., dropped to 3 degrees above zero the same night. The freeze also devastated the farming communities of the San Joaquin Valley, destroying 75 percent of the citrus crop, with an estimated loss of more than $1 billion.

Incredible Snowfall: The Tug Hill Plateau in is known for recording among the highest seasonal snowfall totals in the United States, preparing residents of the north-central New York region well for monstrous snow amounts. Lake-effect snows off Lake Ontario can bring well over 100 inches of snow to the region over the course of a season. However, a single lake-effect storm in early February would bring this much snow and more to the winter-hardy communities of the Tug Hill Plateau.

A blast of cold, arctic air moved across the Great Lakes on February 1, firing up the lake-effect machine along Lake Ontario, and over the next eleven days, the snow continued to fall. Redfield, N.Y. in the heart of the Tug Hill Plateau recorded an incredible 141 inches of the white stuff, with nearby Parish coming in just behind, at 121 inches. The snow was so deep in spots that single-story buildings were buried to their roofs.

Small Tornado with a Punch: Even as the nation turned its attention toward the Groundhog, Central Florida was the site for a small but very powerful tornado on February 2. Forming from a series of strong thunderstorms marching their way across the Florida Peninsula before sunrise, the twister killed twenty-one from Lake County to Volusia County. The storm was estimated to be 450 yards wide, and the estimated $270 million damage was described by survivors as "much more devastating than the hurricanes" that devastated the region in 2004 and 2005. The first tornado to be rated under the new "Enhanced Fujita" scale, which started only one day before, the twister weighed in as an EF-3 tornado.

Killer Outbreak: The beginning of March saw the first major tornado outbreak of the season, with 57 tornadoes forming from the Central Plains into the Southeast from February 28 to March 2. The worst twisters occurred on March 1, when a single storm devastated the town of Enterprise, Ala. An EF-4 tornado with winds estimated at greater than 200 mph hit Enterprise High School, causing massive damage. Eight students were killed when walls collapsed at the school. School buses were on site to dismiss students, and it is believed that had the buses been filled, the death toll would have been much higher. In all, twenty fatalities were reported from the outbreak, with damage reports in excess of $500 million.

Devastation in Kansas: On May 4, the strongest tornado of the season occurred, devastating the town of Greensburg, Kan. One of 91 tornadoes to form across the Plains that day, the twister that hit Greensburg was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 tornado, with winds up to 300 mph. The storm was estimated to be 1.7 miles wide, and destroyed 95 percent of the town, causing devastation similar to that seen in other top-of-the scale storms. The previous extreme tornado, which slammed Moore, Okla., in 1999, wrapped pickup trucks around metal poles, and wiped houses and buildings clear from the ground. In Greensburg, crop silos were leveled, and to make matters worse, chemicals leaked from a nearby train, hampering rescue efforts more difficult. Even the city's Greensburg Meteorite was buried for a week before being recovered. Thirteen people were killed in Greensburg that day, with damage estimates of more than $150 million.

Record Hurricanes
No year would be complete without memorable hurricanes, and 2007 was no exception. This year saw two hurricanes make landfall as top-of-the-scale Category 5 storms, the first time that had ever happened.

Hurricane Dean formed in mid-August, moving through the southern Lesser Antilles. It brushed Jamaica on August 20, killing three and causing near $5 billion in damage there. It then grew into a 160-mph monster, slamming into a lightly-populated part of Mexico`s Yucatan Peninsula on August 21. The storm weakened as it crossed the peninsula, and made landfall on the Mexican mainland as a weak hurricane. The fact that Dean hit an area with low population probably limited the damage caused by the storm, as less than $1 billion damage was reported in Mexico.

The other Category 5 storm, Hurricane Felix formed at the very end of August just east of the Lesser Antilles. Felix moved south of Dean`s path, a few hundred miles north of the "ABC Islands" of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao off the South American coast. After strengthening to 165 mph, Felix set its target on the Central American coast, hitting along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. Similar to Dean, Felix made landfall in a lightly-populated area, lowering the death toll from the storm. However, the 15 to 25 inches of rain that the hurricane produced caused significant flooding and massive mudslides, killing 133 people in the region, including 25 fishermen who were killed when their boat was swept away in the storm.

Parched in the Southeast
Throughout 2007, the Southeast U.S. dug deeper into a drought as the region saw little rainfall. Across the Carolinas, western Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, many cities were ten to fifteen inches below a normal year`s rainfall. Reservoirs in the region, such as Georgia`s Lake Lanier, began to reach dry lake bed when replenishing rains did not come.

Under the threat of the lakes drying completely by the spring of 2008, states sought other means to replenish their water supply. In one case, a solution between states was worked out to redistribute water from the rivers to the reservoirs. Another instance involved a statewide prayer for rainfall. However, without significant rainfall in early 2008, the drought will continue to stress the region`s water supply well into the 2008.

California in Flames
Another drought in southern California led to a significant wildfire in late October. This year was the driest on record in the Los Angeles and San Diego area, setting the stage for a major fire. On October 20, a strong, dry Santa Ana wind developed. Complete with winds approaching 100 mph and temperatures in the middle 90s, wildfires rapidly developed throughout the region`s mountains. The largest U.S. evacuation since Hurricane Katrina was mobilized in the San Diego area, as almost 1 million people were moved into schools, stadiums and other buildings in safer locations. By the time the fires wound down in early November, 500,000 acres of land burned from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border, a span of more than 200 miles. Fourteen people were killed by the fires. Although damage may take years to be fully calculated, it is expected to be well into the billions.

October Outbreak
Proving that severe storms are not limited to the spring, 2007 provided a late-season outbreak across the Plains and Deep South. The largest October tornado outbreak ever produced 52 tornadoes from Oklahoma to Missouri and Florida to Michigan from October 17 to 19. In Tulsa, Okla., a street festival received significant damage from a severe thunderstorm with winds estimated at 80 mph, although no one was killed. Others in Kentucky weren`t so lucky as tornadoes in the outbreak killed five people.

Autumn Floods Around the World
Hurricane Noel formed in late October in the northern Caribbean, moving along the east coast of Cuba before stalling over the island. While the storm spun over Cuba, it dropped ten to twenty inches of rain on the neighboring island of Hispaniola, causing massive flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm started moving again on October 30, racing up the East Coast, bringing rain and strong winds to Eastern New England. However, in the Caribbean, more than 100 people were killed by the floods and mudslides.

Around the same time, massive flooding also occurred in Mexico as the Rio Grijalva in the state of Tabasco was overwhelmed by heavy rains on October 30. By November 3, flood waters had impacted as much as 80 percent of the state, displacing as many as 1 million people and virtually wiping out Mexico`s cocoa crop.

In November, a tropical storm in the northern Indian Ocean strengthened into a Category 4 cyclone. With winds of 135 mph, Cyclone Sidr slammed into the low-lying nation of Bangladesh on November 15, dropping more than a foot of rain and causing tidal waves in excess of 16 feet. Early damage estimates of $450 million are expected to rise significantly, as the country`s rice crop was completely devastated by the cyclone`s flood. Already, almost 3,500 people have been reported dead from the cyclone, with several thousand still missing. Many relief groups estimate that the Sidr`s death toll could rise as high as 10,000 once everyone is accounted for.

Icy Plains
In early December, the central and southern Plains were greeted by a major ice storm. Starting on December 8, rain fell onto a sub-freezing central U.S., creating a massive ice storm across Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.

All of this ice knocked out power and caused numerous accidents. Twenty-three people were killed during the storm, largely from car accidents as ice-covered roads caused massive pile-ups. At the height of the storm, nearly one million people were without power, mostly in Oklahoma and Missouri.

Ottawa, Okla. received the most ice during the storm, with reports of more than two inches of ice accumulating on roads, power lines, and trees. Widespread reports of ice accumulations of more than an inch were reported from central Oklahoma across the Ozarks, and from northeastern Kansas to southern Illinois. Many people were still without power more than a week later, with damage likely to reach into the billions.

Tropical December
The tropics decided to go overtime in 2007, providing us with an extra storm after the traditional season-ending on November 30. The fifteenth named storm of the season, Olga, formed as a hybrid subtropical storm on December 11 just north of Puerto Rico.

It moved westward into the Dominican Republic, becoming a tropical storm just before landfall. Forty people were killed by the storm, of which 20 of the deaths occurred when floodgates were opened on the Yaque del Norte River in the Dominican Republic. The dam then released a 66-foot high wave of water on towns below without warning. The storm then tracked across the Dominican Republic and Haiti, before weakening south of Cuba.

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