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January 02, 2024

Midland Meteorologist, Bruce Jones looks back on the wildest weather events of 2023 and shares what we can learn to better prepare for the future.

THE GREAT BUFFALO BLIZZARD

On January 19, 2023 the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office added three heart attack victims to the final death toll of the December 23-24, 2022 blizzard that devastated Buffalo, New York. Forty-seven people died in the area after a well-forecasted and well-warned blizzard snarled traffic, creating crippling snow drifts and deadly wind chills.

Anyone trying to drive or walk in the blinding snow risked death from freezing or over-exertion. (Both extreme cold and extreme heat put stress on vulnerable hearts.)

National Weather Service blizzard warnings issued before the storm included, “travel is strongly discouraged,” and other ominous warnings. 

Some survivors claimed they did not comprehend the severity of the situation until they were caught out in it, fighting for their lives. 

Lesson: Have a NOAA Weather Radio so you receive every warning and can listen to the latest official updates straight from your local National Weather Service office. You’ll better understand what you’re up against.

A LAKE IN DEATH VALLEY

The only tropical system to strike Los Angeles in 84 years, Tropical Storm Hilary entered southern California on August 20th, triggering the first official Tropical Storm Watch in the state’s history. 

The storm subsequently required a tornado warning and numerous flash flood alerts. 

Winds gusted to 76 mph at Magic Mountain, but rain was the leading impact. Six to seven-inch rain totals were common in the Los Angeles basin, as the mountains of Southern California acted on the clouds like a mop wringer. Some areas, including Death Valley National Park, received more than a year’s worth of rain in just 48 hours, creating a new lake on the floor of the valley, where record-breaking flash floods did million-dollar damage to several highways. 

Lesson: When traveling, especially during heavy rain, stay alert for road damage.  When in doubt, “Turn around, don’t drown.”

Temporary lake in Death Valley

Photo Courtesy: National Park Service

Destroyed highway, Death Valley

Photo Courtesy: National Park Service

 

ROLLING FORK EF4 TORNADO

57 minutes after sunset on March 24, 2023 an enormous half-mile-wide EF4 tornado entered the small town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi.  

In minutes, much of the town was leveled by winds that peaked at 195mph, best survived in a designated shelter or basement.  

A tornado watch was issued for the area from 5:15 onward, mentioning the possibility of, “a few strong-intense tornadoes." With that tornado watch, followed by a strongly worded tornado warning at 7:53, severe weather forecasters nailed it. However, nocturnal tornadoes are particularly dangerous. If you are looking for them, they are difficult to see, and most folks are indoors after dark, perhaps not watching local TV. 

17 died in Rolling Fork, the majority of them in vulnerable mobile homes.

Lesson: In a mobile home, your best chance of survival is to get watches and warnings the moment they are issued, then leave the trailer for more substantial shelter.  To keep your family safe, nothing’s faster than NOAA Weather Radio, the official “Voice of the National Weather Service”.

Water tower blown down by EF4 tornado

Photo courtesy: National Weather Service

 

BILLION DOLLAR DISASTERS

The number of billion-dollar disasters in the US is going up significantly. 

As of November, the 2023 tally includes 25 “biggies”, and that’s not counting Tropical Storm Hilary (mentioned earlier).  Our long range normal is eight, meaning 2023 could be the costliest severe weather year on record.

This year’s list of events includes giant 5.25-inch-diameter hail in Colorado, and the devastating southern drought damaging farms across Texas; Louisiana; and the Gulf Coast states. 

Infographic courtesy: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

PREPARATION IS KEY

America has the worst weather on Earth: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, ice storms, and wind-driven wildfires. 

If you live here, a NOAA Weather Radio should be as useful to you as your smoke detectors.  These trustworthy, affordable devices silently monitor a radio signal from your local National Weather Service office. 

When trouble arises, they instantly alert you, giving you time to get yourself and your family to safety. 

Severe weather happens, but it IS survivable. 

Have a plan of action, and have multiple redundant ways to get warnings, including a NOAA Weather Radio. They make great gifts!

 

  


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