1999 drought topped year's most significant weather events, from hurricane to heat wave, in Northeast (News from the northeast regional climate center)
By Blaine Friedlander
The drought that devastated agriculture in the northeastern United States was the most significant of 9 major weather events in the region last year, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) at Cornell University.
Dry conditions during the second half of 1998 served as prologue to the 1999 drought. After a wet January 1999, the months of February through August received only 76 percent of normal precipitation, making it the third driest February-August period in 105 years of record-keeping. Precipitation deficits for the 14 months ending August 1999 ranged from 6 inches to more than 14 inches across the region, according to Keith Eggleston, a senior climatologist at the center.
Severe drought, according to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, was reported in eastern Maryland in May and spread into parts of West Virginia during June. Drought conditions in these states intensified to extreme, the most severe drought category, by July and continued into September. By mid-July, severe drought was reported in parts of every state in the Northeast region, says Eggleston.
The NRCC cited these other weather events for the region in 1999:
- Hurricane Floyd (Sept. 15-18): Record-breaker and drought-breaker Hurricane Floyd made landfall in North Carolina on Sept. 16 and in the next 24 hours moved up the coast as a tropical storm. It brought both high winds and exceptionally heavy rainfall, which caused flooding in areas near the northeast coast. Rainfall associated with the storm totaled more than 8 inches in an arc-shaped corridor running from western Connecticut through the lower Hudson Valley, northern New Jersey and into northern Delaware. Some places within this area recorded more than 12 inches of rain. Philadelphia (6.63 inches) and Albany, N.Y. (6.05 inches), set all-time, 24-hour precipitation records for those cities. In fact, the storm gave Philadelphia its wettest month on record with 13.07 inches.
- July heat wave (July 4-6): An oppressive heat wave hit the Northeast over the Independence Day weekend as the Bermuda High established itself off the mid-Atlantic coast and pumped hot, humid air across the region. The heat wave, which peaked between July 4 and July 6, saw temperatures top 90 degrees Fahrenheit over all but the northern portions of the region. Over 150 heat-related deaths were reported around the region. Hundreds of people were hospitalized as the heat index climbed to around 115 degrees in some locations.
Record temperatures on: July 5, included Newark, N.J., 103 degrees, and Islip, N.Y., 102 degrees. New York City reported highs of 101 degrees on July 5 and 6. Harrisburg, Pa., Atlantic City and New York City reported their warmest Julys on record.
- Western New York snow storm (March 3-4): Deep low pressure moved north from West Virginia across New York to Quebec. Snow fell at the rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour in Monroe and Wayne counties in New York. By the end of the storm, some places reported snowfall of more than 2 feet. A few higher-elevation locations in Maryland, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania reported 12 to 16 inches of snow. High winds associated with the storm resulted in blizzard or near-blizzard conditions, and drifts reached four to five feet in places. Two days later, Rochester, N.Y., received another 18.4 inches of snow, bringing the three-day total to 40.7 inches. This established several new snowfall records for the city, including a snow depth of 36 inches.
- Late-season coastal snowstorm (March 14-15): A low-pressure system developed along the Gulf Coast on March 13 moving through Alabama to just east of the Delmarva Peninsula around daybreak on March 15. The storm intensified and moved rapidly offshore March 15 and reached Nova Scotia the next morning. Some areas, such as the Poconos, reported snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour at the height of the storm, causing many travel problems throughout the region. The heavy, wet snow also brought down trees and power lines at many locations in the affected areas.
Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, eastern New York and southern New England reported between 6 and 12 inches of snow. Northern Maine saw 4 to 8 inches, while the southern portion of that state reported 12 to 17 inches. Northwestern Pennsylvania, western, central and northern New York and Vermont, on the other hand, were spared, with little or no snow reported in these areas.
- Mixed bag of precipitation (Jan. 13-15): While an extremely cold Arctic air mass moved slowly across the Northeast, a low pressure system developed over the Tennessee Valley and moved into the mid-Atlantic region and finally up New York's Hudson River. Precipitation from this storm began as snow in most places, but as warmer air was pulled into the storm, the snow changed to freezing rain in many areas near the coast.
Ice accumulations from one-fourth inch to nearly 1 inch occurred across much of Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. New Jersey, southeastern New York and southern New England averaged around two inches of snow. Six to 10 inches were common across western Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont. Two to 6 inches were reported across New Hampshire and Maine. Northeast winds off the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean produced "ocean effect" snow squalls along the eastern coast of Massachusetts. Total snowfall in this area ranged from 10 to 16 inches.
Flooding (Aug. 25-26): When a line of thunderstorms roared through the region, Washington, D.C., received more than 2 inches of rain, and parts of Maryland reported 2 to 6 inches. A second round of strong thunderstorms on the 26th produced torrential rain that caused serious urban and small-stream flash flooding over a much larger portion of the region. Four inches of rain fell in Annapolis, Md., in only 90 minutes.
- Hurricane Dennis (Sept. 4-7): After loitering off the North Carolina coast for nearly a week, the remnants of Hurricane Dennis left a Northeast legacy that included heavy rain and power outages caused by fallen tree limbs. Tidal flooding occurred along the western shoreline of Chesapeake Bay, with tides 2 to 3 feet above normal at some locations. Up to 5 inches of rain fell over portions of Maryland and eastern West Virginia. Sugar Grove, W.Va., reported over 7 inches of rain, and Williamsport, Pa., measured 6.29 inches on Sept. 7.
- Lake-effect snow (Jan. 1-15): Western and northern New York were repeatedly pounded by lake-effect snowstorms during the first half of January 1999. Record or near-record snowfall accumulations of 4 to 6 feet were recorded across the area. Buffalo reported more than 60 inches of snow between Jan. 1 and 15.