2017 was an incredible, devastating year in weather — and now, the second-warmest year on record across the globed, according to NASA. From multiple major hurricanes to an unparalleled wildfire season, the final toll will be thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
Between these catastrophes, though, were a few glimmers of light in the form of a stunning wildflower super bloom and a solar eclipse for the ages.
Here are the 10 most incredible weather photos of 2017.
Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico
No storm in 2017 was as devastating as Hurricane Maria was to Puerto Rico. More than three months later, more than half the island’s 3.3 million population is still without power, on which the government blames Puerto Rico’s rough terrain.
Although the official death toll has remained relatively low, a recent investigation by the New York Times found that the number of hurricane-related deaths probably exceeds 1,000. The governor of Puerto Rico ordered a recount of the death toll in mid-December.
Hurricane Maria stories
Total solar eclipse
As veteran meteorologist Bob Ryan said, watching a total solar eclipse is “witnessing the indescribable.” And, at least according to a CNN poll before the event, half of the U.S. population watched it, which would make it the most-viewed eclipse in history. The path was what made this eclipse so special — across the entire Lower 48 from Oregon to South Carolina.
Solar eclipse coverage
Oroville Dam disaster
After an exceptionally wet winter in Northern California, the Lake Oroville dam’s spillway crumbled during powerful storms in February. The spillway regulates the water flow out of the dam, and its damage placed hundreds of thousands at risk downstream. About 188,000 people were evacuated as a result of the mishap, but ultimately no homes or people were harmed.
In 2005, when the dam was up for relicensing, environmental groups warned that the spillway was not strong enough to control such a large flow. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a new license despite the petitions.
The state is now racing to repair the dam in time for the winter rain and spring runoff.
Three hurricanes in the Atlantic
It was a record-book hurricane season in 2017. Not only was it one of the most active, but also it was the most expensive season in U.S. history. Although final costs may not be known for years, estimates suggest the tab will run beyond $200 billion.
2017 hurricane season coverage
California super bloom
A wildflower super bloom took over the hillsides in California in the spring after nearly 10 inches of much-needed winter rain. For four years, the state had struggled with a serious drought that drained reservoirs and prompted water bans. But last year’s El Niño-like conditions brought the rain and the wildflowers took a giant gulp.
More on the superbloom:
Crazy snow in the Sierra Nevada
There was more rain and snowfall in California during the 2016-2017 water year than any other season on record. The California-Nevada River Forecast Center uses an eight-station index in the northern Sierras to quantify the region’s precipitation. As of Feb. 12, those eight station had received 226 percent of normal.
When surveyors went out to measure how much had accumulated through the winter, they found 751 inches of snow just north of Lake Tahoe — more than 62 feet.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort got more than 47 feet of snow last winter, including a 45-year record of 282 inches in January. It was enough that the ski area stayed open through July 4, which is just the fourth time it has been able to do that.
Sierra snow stories:
Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into Texas in late August, was more destructive in its flooding than any of its other components. About 33 trillion gallons of water fell from the storm, most of which landed in a swath from Houston to Southwest Louisiana. Most estimates place Harvey ahead of Hurricane Katrina in damages — about $180 billion.
Stories from Hurricane Harvey
It was a deadly, destructive year for wildfires in California. Thousands of families were evacuated from their homes, and many of those had nothing to come back to but ash and rubble. Dozens died in a blaze that took off overnight in the wine country north of San Francisco.
In December, dry Santa Ana winds stoked what would become the largest fire in California history — the Thomas Fire in Southern California. It burned nearly 300,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and spurred more than 8,000 firefighters into action at its peak. The cause of the Thomas Fire remains under investigation.
More on California’s terrible fire year
Irma pulls the ocean away from the shore
Hurricane Irma’s winds were strong enough to temporarily change the shape of the shorelines in the Bahamas and Florida. Twitter user @Kaydi_K shared a video during the storm that quickly went viral. The wind on Long Island in the Bahamas was blowing from southeast to northwest. So, on the northwest side of the island, water was getting pulled away from the shoreline.
“I am in disbelief right now…” she wrote. “This is Long Island, Bahamas and the ocean water is missing!!!”
58 inches in 48 hours
Two days of lake-effect snow buried Erie, Pa., the state’s fourth largest city, under about five feet of snow on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The storm buried local and state snowfall records, including the biggest two-day snowfall in all of Pennsylvania. smashing both local and state snowfall records while hampering holiday travel around the Great Lakes.
It didn’t stop there, though. Snow continued to fall into the third and fourth days, pushing the month to the snowiest December on record in the city.
Erie officials declared a state of emergency pleaded that people stay off the roads, including interstates 90 and 79. Emergency vehicles had a hard time getting through the snow, so they were supplied with Humvee ambulances by the National Guard.
Crazy lake effect snow stories
Editor’s note: This compilation was originally published in late December. It’s particularly relevant again, now that NOAA and NASA have said 2017 ranks in the top 3 warmest years on record. Time and again, research has shown that extreme weather events will increase in frequency — and perhaps magnitude — as Earth warms due to fossil fuel emissions.