For a second straight year, extreme weather took a heavy toll on the United States. Weather disaster costs for 2018 are anticipated to top $155 billion, down only slightly from 2017.
2018 featured severe winter weather, record-crushing heat and two devastating hurricanes.
Recall the barrage of nor’easters in March that walloped the Northeast before record cold in April tormented the Upper Midwest. Just a few months later, excessive heat and wildfires torched the West. Then came Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas and Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.
In a stroke of good fortune, no violent tornadoes (rated EF4 or EF5) touched down in the United States in 2018 for the first time on record, and twister fatalities were at record-low levels.
Let’s take a walk through memory lane, starting at the beginning.
1. March nor’easter onslaught
As February ended, signals were obvious that East Coast storminess was brewing. Then in the first days of the month, large portions of the coastal northeast were blasted by hurricane-force wind gusts as high as 97 mph in Wellfleet, Mass.
The storm, which would be the first in a series, also caused widespread and major coastal flooding and was partially responsible for the biggest wind storm in the Mid-Atlantic since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
It was truly a case in which the hits kept coming. A second major nor’easter arrived as the first week of March ended. They would then follow at a rate of one a week through the rest of the month. A fifth to close it out was a near miss as it remained too far offshore.
Although the main effects of the storms as a group may have been flooding and wind-related issues, it was an above-average snowfall month for most of Mid-Atlantic into New England. Interior areas of eastern New York and New England were hit particularly hard, with multiple feet of snow recorded by the end of the month.
2. A frigid and snowy April from the Northern Plains to the Upper Midwest
Spring is slow to arrive in the northern tier most years. 2018 took it to the next level. Large portions of the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northern Plains saw one of their coldest Aprils on record, and some witnessed the coldest.
In many places, it felt way more like winter than spring. Green Bay in Wisconsin was the population center with the most extreme combination of cold and snow. It picked up more than 3 feet of snow during the month (36.7 inches) and tallied its second-coldest April on record.
A persistent and abnormally strong pool of cold air associated with upper-level low pressure was largely responsible. It was anchored over southeast Canada and ensured a relentless flow of frigid air into the central United States.
It was enough to make even the most-winter-hardened cry uncle.
3. Record July heat in California and fires
It did not take long until the story flipped from bone-chilling cold to blistering heat.
California’s scorching July was headlined by a historic heat wave in Southern California on July 6. Most records for the date were obliterated, and quite a few of the highest temperatures were the highest recorded for July or any other month, known as “all-time” records.
The state averaged a temperature of 79.7 degrees, besting the old record of 79.5 in July 1931. It was a full five degrees above normal for the month.
Several massive fires erupted across California, including the Mendocino Complex, which was the third largest on record in the state. The hot and dry summer lasted deep into fall, with conditions remaining much drier than normal through early November, when the weather-aided Camp Fire erupted, the state’s most damaging and deadliest blaze on record.
4. The great floods of Hurricane Florence
Hurricane Florence was not the most powerful storm, weakening to a Category 1 just before landfall. But as it came ashore, its forward motion nearly ground to a halt, and it unloaded historic amounts of rain, which led to disastrous flooding.
Numerous rainfall records were set by Florence. The 35.93 inches in Elizabethtown, N.C., was the most on record for a tropical storm or hurricane in North Carolina. The deluge was a big contributor to Wilmington’s record-crushing 100-plus inches of rain in the year, topping the previous mark by about 30 inches.
Fifty-three deaths were attributed to the storm.
5. Monstrous Michael — Landfall on Oct. 10
With sustained winds of 155 mph and a central pressure of 919 millibars, Hurricane Michael was among the strongest hurricanes on record to strike the Lower 48.
The storm was a true monster. It was also something of a meteorological oddball. Tropical cyclones making landfall in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and particularly the northeast gulf, often weaken on approach. Even the beasts of history such as Katrina and Dennis were doing so.
Not Michael. It kept strengthening until it struck land and was the strongest storm on record to hit the Florida Panhandle.
Its towering storm surge, measured at 15.55 feet, and violent winds produced catastrophic damage.
The storm was blamed for 45 deaths in the United States.
Some of these notable weather or weather-related events in 2018 almost made the list:
- Table Rock Lake duck boat thunderstorm disaster (deadlier than any tornado since 20 people died in the Moore, Okla., EF5 in 2013)
- Hurricane Lane (more than 50 inches of rain, among highest storm totals on record in the United States)
- Typhoon Yutu (worst storm since 1935 in the Northern Marianas, a U.S. commonwealth)
- January cold and bomb cyclone
- Record late-summer humidity in New England and the Mid-Atlantic
- A very snowy November in New England