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2012: Part 1 - Record Snow to Deadly Tornadoes

December 21, 2012

By WeatherBug Meteorologists, Chad Merrill, John Bateman and Seth Carrier


A full spectrum of weather ranging from record snow to deadly tornado outbreaks and a destructive derecho plagued the U.S. during the first part of 2012. Here`s a glimpse of the weather highlights from January to June.

January 14-20: Winter Storm Throttles Northwest to Upper Midwest

The year kicked off with a severe winter storm in the Northwest in mid-January. Three out of four missing campers and climbers who went missing from their trips up Mount Rainier were found dead following an avalanche. Nearly 5 feet of snow was on the ground at the time and wind gusts topped 100 mph. The rare storm dumped a record 6.8 inches of snow on Seattle January 18th with total accumulation of 7.1 inches by the time it ended the next day. The storm then plowed into the Upper Midwest where 6 to 9 inches of snow blanketed the Chicago area, canceling more than 600 flights at O`Hare Airport.

February 3-4: Early-February Plains Winter Blast

Winter continued with a second major storm that rattled Colorado to the Plains with heavy snow in early February. The highest snow total was Echo Mountain near Denver where 55 inches of snow fell with the Colorado Foothills getting anywhere from 48 inches at Black Hawk to 36 inches in Evergreen. Metro Denver received 15.9 inches from the three-day storm, easily making it the biggest of the season. About 600 flights at Denver International Airport were cancelled and Interstate 70 from Denver to the Kansas state line was closed for a time. As the storm moved out into the Plains, it dumped 6 to 20 inches along the Interstate 80 corridor across Nebraska. The wet nature of the snow caused limbs to break, with more than 15,000 people losing power.

February 29: Deadly Leap Day Tornado Outbreak

The month of February ended with a deadly tornado outbreak in the Midwest and South. Sixteen tornadoes blasted parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. Thirteen people died and 37 were hurt in Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. An EF-2 tornado with winds of 120 to 130 mph left much of Harveyville, Kan., in rubble. At least 9 people were killed in Branson, Mo., following a rash of severe storms that damaged some of the famous theatres just days before the tourist season started. Meanwhile, an EF-4 tornado with wind speeds as high as 170 mph swept through Harrisburg, Ill., killing 6 people. More than 43,000 people were without power in Missouri following the storms.

March 2-3: Historical Early March Tornado Outbreak

Mother Nature wasted no time jumping into spring as the calendar flipped to March. A historical tornado outbreak followed just two days after the Midwest and South got rocked with violent tornadoes on Leap Day. A record 117 touched down on March 2nd from Illinois to Ohio and south to Alabama. This surpassed the former record of 58 tornadoes in one single day in March. It was also the second deadliest tornado outbreak in early March for the U.S., with 40 deaths. The March 2-3 outbreak was the first weather disaster of the year to produce damages and losses in excess of $1 billion.

One storm completely destroyed Marysville, Ind., killing 6 people while nearby Henryville, Ind., was raked with an EF-4 tornado that had winds of 175 mph and stayed on the ground for 52 miles. No building was left untouched in West Liberty, Ky. The weather service said four EF2 and EF3 tornadoes that hit Kentucky were the worst in 24 years. The Cincinnati-northern KY International Airport was temporarily closed due to storm debris on the runway. At least 20 homes were ripped off their foundation and eight people injured in Chattanooga, Tenn.

April 3: Tornadoes Trample Dallas Area

Early April proved to be destructive in north-central Texas. An upper-level low and cold front clashed with warm, unstable air across north-central Texas, producing 17 tornadoes across the Dallas area on Tuesday, April 4. There were at least 50,000 left without power and 20 people hurt. The most significant tornado was an EF 3 that stayed on the ground for 8 miles in Forney, Texas. More than 110 airplanes at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport sustained hail damage. In total, 1,200 flights were cancelled April 3rd and 4th. Additional flights were also cancelled at Dallas Love Field. The mayor of Arlington, Texas, declared a state of emergency following the storms` wrath.

April 23-24: Snowstorm Topples Trees in the Northeast

Following a dry and mild winter, the Northeast`s last snow in late April ended up being its most significant of the season. Topping the list, Laurel Summit, Pa., got 23.2 inches while Newfield, N.Y., got 10 inches. Ithaca, N.Y., had 6 inches, which was its greatest one-day snow total for the 2011-2012 snow season. Since leaves were already on the trees, the snow`s added weight caused massive outages with at least 50,000 people in the dark across the Northeast. The snow postponed minor league baseball in Batavia, just east of Buffalo, where the Empire State Yankees and Norfolk Tides were due to play. Farther south, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett declared a disaster emergency.

June 29: Violent Derecho Plows Through the East

This severe weather event can probably be credited with putting the word "derecho" into the common vernacular of millions of Americans. A derecho, Spanish for "direct" or "straight ahead," is a long-lived, widespread windstorm associated with a line of rapidly moving thunderstorms. Derechos can produce tornado-like damage, typically in one direction and along a relatively straight path.

A very hot and humid day across the East helped to fuel this derecho, which started out as a relatively-common cluster of severe thunderstorms popping up in the afternoon heat around Chicago. By late-day, the storms had developed into a long band of severe storms, which eventually travelled more than 700 miles in 12 hours, bringing a swath of death and destruction from northern Indiana to southern Virginia.

This storm was notable in that it hit many large metropolitan areas with relatively little advanced notice, with winds gusting more than 90 mph at times. Ft. Wayne, Ind., reported a gust of 91 mph, Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, reported gusts around 80 mph, and Zanesville, Ohio, recorded its all-time high June-July wind gust of 63 mph as the line bulldozed through.

It then hit southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area with gusts of 65-75 mph. Even as the line of storms continued to push off the East Coast that night, parts of Delaware, southern New Jersey, and the Virginia Tidewater region reported wind gusts of 60-70 mph.

In its wake, there were nearly two dozen deaths and many more injuries. Approximately 5 million customers lost power - some for more than a week - during a prolonged, life-threatening heat wave that followed the storm. In fact, Virginia reported more than 800,000 outages; its largest number of non-hurricane related power outages in history. Cell phone outages, including 911 service interruptions, plagued the Washington, D.C., area for days. On top of that, countless trees fell, damaging and destroying thousands of homes, businesses, and cars. Total damages remain uncalculated but are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Click here for Part 2, about the year`s record drought and destructive hurricanes.

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