Monday, December 19, 2011

Top 10 Weather Events Of 2011

As I always say, there's nothing normal about Arkansas weather and this year was no exception.  Extreme cold, extreme heat, drought and floods; it was another busy year covering everything Mother Nature threw at us.  As always on the Arkansas Weather Blog, we count down the top 10 weather events of the year.  Since this is published several days before the end of the year, there's always a chance the list can be amended.

Compiling this list would be impossible without the help from the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.  They keep all the official numbers on record there and their staff does a fantastic job of providing information.

Arkansas averages 33 tornadoes a year.  This year we more than doubled that number with a total of 75.  2011 will go down as the 4th most active tornado year in modern history.  3rd is 78 in 1982, 2nd is 81 in 2008,  and 1st is 107 tornadoes in 1999. Tornadoes killed 12 in our state and injured 97 in 2011.


An early season snowstorm starts our top 10 list.  Shortly after Thanksgiving, snow lovers in northeast Arkansas got a rare treat.  We knew a few inches would be possible, but some places came in with a lot more as an area of low pressure aloft brought a good thumping of snow.  There was even a report from the far northeastern corner of the state of 8''.  That will put you in the Holiday spirit for sure.

ASU dorms from Shelby Tull

At first, I was going to only mention the record wind gust at the Little Rock airport on August the 7th.  A thunderstorm downburst produced a 77 mph gust which is the second highest ever recorded at Adams field.  I talked to meteorologist John Robinson and he brought up an interesting point.  There were several very high wind gusts recorded across the state this year mostly as a result of thunderstorms.  7 people died this year from high winds inside thunderstorms which is why whenever a warning is issued, it's best to seek shelter.

April 19th, Oil Trough... 95 mph
May 25th, Cades (Lincoln County)... 89 mph
July 30th, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport... 82 mph
May 11th, Rogers... 79 mph

The 77 mph wind gust at the Little Rock airport on August 7th flipped this plane over.  Photo courtesy of John Robinson with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.


In a year which featured horrible drought conditions for portions of the state, the rain in November was welcomed, but quickly turned into too much at one time.  According to the National Weather Service, a thirty day stretch ending Dec. 10th brought 10-20 inches of rain for western, central, and northeastern Arkansas.  25% of our yearly rainfall fell in November.  Several new records were established including one on the 21st of November.  Little Rock received 6.06'' which was the wettest day since 1988.  It was the 2nd wettest November day ever and the 9th wettest day on record overall according to the National Weather Service.  When all was said and done, it was the wettest November on record in Little Rock with 14.57''.  This is absolutely remarkable considering only 3.44'' fell during the months of September and October combined.  It just proves, if you don't like the weather in Arkansas, just wait.  It will change, and change drastically.

KATV viewer, Jerry Johnston, sent in this picture of a dock floating down Lake Hamilton
Fellow weather geek, Lindsey, sent in this picture of flooding in Russellville.
7)  September 25th.  Tichnor hail.

A strong storm system with very unstable air produced hail over southeastern Arkansas.  There was even a weak tornado which touched down near Tichnor as well.  Hail sizes ranged from baseballs to grapefruits with widespread damage reported.  We're lucky that Bucky Graham didn't get hurt as he was storm chasing in the area.  His car was a different story.  Watch this scary video!

He even captured a funnel through his broken windshield
If he had a dollar for every hailstone, he'd be very rich!
5 Live Dopplers shows the large hail moving into Tichnor on the 25th of Sept.


For snow lovers, this storm was a huge treat.  For travelers along I-30, it was a huge headache.  The computer models did a fantastic job days in advance showing a significant snow for the I-30 corridor eastward.  The storm lived up to all expectations and then some.  Our own Channel 7 storm chaser, WeatherNinja, drove down to Texarkana early that morning to follow the snow and stream it live on the blog as it marched into central Arkansas.  The snow started falling in Little Rock around 2 PM that day and by the next morning, we had 5.7'' of snow.  In North Little Rock, 4.1'' fell.  The corridor of heaviest snow was right along I-30 and it amounted to 6-10'' in some places.  Traffic along I-30 came to a standstill for several hours and the Arkansas National Guard had to be called out to assist stranded motorists.

KATV viewer having too much fun making a snow angel.  Wonder how sick he was the next day?
Paul, The Weather Guru, and his wife proudly wearing their Arkansas Weather Blog shirt in the snow
Just one of many accidents along I-30 giving travelers big headaches.

A rare EF4 tornado tracked 1.5 miles south of Branch to 1.8 miles east-southeast of Rosetta.  This tornado tore a path of 45.71 miles.  Four people were killed and 27 were injured.  The fatalities occurred in the Etna and Bethlehem communities.  There were also fatalities in Denning.  All of them were in mobile homes. The outbreak of tornadoes cranked up once again the next afternoon, especially along the 67/167 corridor in northeast Arkansas.  Large hail was a big problem across southeastern Arkansas on the afternoon of the 25th.  When all was said and done, there were 6 tornadoes.  5 people were killed and 31 were injured.

The video below is the Oil Trough tornado Below is damage video from Denning
A Channel 7 storm chaser catches this tornado on live TV during our coverage just south of Augusta.

There were 18 tornadoes across Arkansas on this deadly day.    When all was said and done, we lost 5 of our fellow Arkansans and 59 were injured.  The tornado which got the most attention was in Vilonia.  4 died there with 20 injuries.  But many other areas suffered major damage. An EF3 tracked from Garland into Saline counties.  An infant was killed there with 20 others injured.  That tornado tore a path of 16.78 miles. Another tornado tore through the Little Rock Air Force Base injuring 4.  This was rated an EF2 with a track of 5.12 miles. An EF2 tornado hit just south of Hamilton in Garland county.  10 were injured as this twister tore a path of 14.44 miles. Another EF2 hit the Sunshine community in Garland county.  9 people were injured there.  

Here's an email and video we received at Channel 7 shortly after the outbreak... "Just thanking everyone in the newsroom, especially Ned, Todd, and Barry for the excellent coverage with the weather this week. I live in Vilonia and the tornado just hooked to the NW of us a few hundred feet. I set my video camera in the upstairs window and got to the closet with the family." Vilonia Tornado from Scott Patrom on Vimeo.
Debris sucked up off the ground seen on doppler radar as the tornado moved across the Pulaski county line into Vilonia


Every year in Arkansas, you can count on some snow and cold weather, but what happened on February 9th and 10th was beyond a shadow of a doubt, extreme!  Northwest Arkansas saw the worst of it when almost 2 feet of snow blanketed that portion of the state.  With fresh snow cover on the ground and clear skies, the morning of the 10th was bitterly cold.  Fayetteville dropped to a record breaking -18 degrees.  That was only 11 degrees away from breaking the all time state low temperature. ( -29 near Gravette on February 13th, 1905 ).
A KATV viewer sent in this picture from Rogers.
Little Rock officially recorded 5.9'' and North Little Rock received 6.2''.  On the morning of the 10th, Little Rock dropped to 10 degrees while North Little Rock bottomed out at 12 degrees.  


Multiple rounds of heavy rain and severe weather in late April into early May brought record flooding to most of eastern Arkansas.  The Black River and lower White River saw record crests which exceeded the huge floods of 2008 (another La Nina year).  At one point, the White River in eastern Arkansas rose to a point which covered a portion of interstate 40.  A long stretch of the interstate was closed for days and traffic had to be diverted causing long delays for travelers and truckers.

The video below is from Chopper 7 flying over a flooded and deserted I-40

Water covers a deserted portion of interstate 40.  Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.
KATV viewer shot this picture from a plane of Augusta, AR

Another KATV viewer picture of the flooding

On August the 3rd, Little Rock redefined the word "hot".  The previous record for the hottest day ever in Little Rock stood for 25 years when on July 31st, 1986, Little Rock hit 112 degrees.  We not only broke that record, we shattered it when we hit 114 degrees at the official observation station at the Little Rock airport at 2:40 PM.  Early that same morning, the low temperature only dropped to 85 degrees which is the warmest low temperature ever in Little Rock.  This shattered the old record of 83 degrees set on July 29th, 1930 and July 12th, 1936.  When you average this low and high, it equals 99.5 degrees which turns out to be the hottest daily average temperature ever in Little Rock.  All this occurred in the midst of a 9 day stretch of consecutive 100 degree plus days. However, this was nothing compared to what Fort Smith experienced.  Their heat was much worse than any other part of the state as they hit 100 degrees 49 times in 2011.  In other words, 13% of the days this year, they hit the century mark.  To make it worse, they hit 100 degrees for 35 consecutive days which is the most in city history. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, 17 people died from heat related illnesses this year.

I successfully fried an egg on the street during the extreme summer heat.  It took awhile, but it eventually cooked

Thank you for reading the Arkansas Weather Blog and making it another fun and successful year.  While we don't know what Mother Nature will throw at us in 2012, you can always count on the Arkansas Weather Blog to be there.  We are your ticket to BIG weather events.  Remember to always stay connected on twitter @katv_weather and on Facebook: Todd Yakoubian. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


The Weather Fanatic said...

Excellent post Todd! Looking back, this year was certainly one for the record books. Each event in the Top 10 is amazing and has plenty of substance. Extreme weather seems to be the new "norm" for us as the weeks, months, and years go by. Call it what you want, but in my 36 years, I've never seen it this wild. I am not in the global warming camp. I truly believe we are cycling. We saw this in the 70's and 80's and the last few years appear to be cycling on a 30-40 year time frame. I love it! Makes following the weather very exciting and gives Todd a major headache as a forecaster, but he loves it just as much, if not more!

As we bring 2011 to a close, what will 2012 bring? More of the same..there is no "normal" when we are cycling. Much debate about when the cold gets here. It will in due time. The weather patterns over the past year have been extremely persistent and when this changes, we will notice!

I will not go out on any major limbs over the next month, but do expect "The Artic Express" to visit. I don't think it will stick around though like it did last year. Expect sharp cool downs for a few days to follow with big warmups. This will bring our severe weather back in play as we approach February. You have to expect an early start to Tornado season in a strong La Nina Winter. Buckle up, it will be a wild ride and I can't wait!!

Michael Bodiak

The Weather Fanatic

Anonymous said...

Great post Todd! Thank you for compiling them.


tboyce1979 said...

Love reading these! I can't wait to chat with my snow buddies again. It has seemed like a crazy year for weather all over the place from one extreme to another. Let's just hold off on snow from Jan. 15th to Jan. 30th. That's when we close on our new home and get ready to move in! As soon as that is finished you can flip the switch and bring the blizzard I dont care! LOL! But seriously, Todd, you are the BEST weatherman in this state and I believe you could rival many in this nation!!! Thanks for working so hard to keep us informed and getting all us non-educated weather geeks something to look forward to :) Can't wait to see what 2012 brings!!!

JasonBHampton said...

Awesome list Todd. Thanks for the hard work and I cant wait to see what 2012 will bring!

Greg Reddin said...

Todd, I know this post took a lot of work to put together, but it was well worth it. Thanks for compiling all this information into a very informative post. I had forgotten about a lot of those events, which is amazing, because each one of them was quite memorable.

jimmylee42 said...


Ditto all the kudos above. I always love the stats on the weather events.

I have been watching my far north cold spots and it looks like it will be a while before we have the Arctic shot of cold that will bring us even teens for lows. I still think we have a chance for a 6 inch snow in January and a single digit low. Fairbanks has been 16 degrees above normal for the first 19 days of December. The local weather folks up there say that is going to change this weekend with a strong Arctic high moving into the interior of Alaska and bringing temps down to -25 to -40 for lows depending on cloud cover.We will probably need a lot of snowpack between here and there to see the single digits, so it may take to the middle to end of January for us. Of course, we can get a snow here anytime before then, especially if we get one of those "bowling ball" lows.

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