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Stormy weather buffeted U.S. in 1999

The U.S. experienced an inordinately busy hurricane season with 12 tropical storms, eight of which became hurricanes  

In this story:

Come rainfall, come snowfall

Disastrous hurricanes

Persistent drought

Summer Heat Wave

Tornado outbreaks




January 4, 2000
Web posted at: 12:39 p.m. EST (1739 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

Record-breaking weather stormed across the United States in 1999, killing hundreds of people and wreaking havoc to the tune of billions of dollars in property damage. From drought to hurricanes, the evidence is clear as day in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather wrap-up for the year.

Even before all the numbers are tallied, NOAA is predicting that 1999 will be the second warmest year on record since 1900 in the U.S., with an average of 55.7 degrees Fahrenheit. This figure comes hot on the heels of 1998's record average high of 56.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Last year's weather performance was consistent with a long-term warming trend in the U.S. (0.5 degrees Celsius per century). Much of the warm weather has occurred since the mid-1970s.

Come rainfall, come snowfall

The U.S. saw less precipitation in 1999, with a national average of 30.60 inches, some 1.05 inches below the average annual mark, according to the National Weather Service.

However, La Nina brought an ocean of precipitation, resulting in heavy rainfall for the Pacific Northwest. Areas in western Washington reported their wettest February and nearly their wettest year on record. Cold temperatures led to a record-setting snow pack in the northern Cascade Mountains. Mount Baker, part of Washington's Cascade range, received 1,140 inches of winter's blanket, a record for the most snowfall recorded in the U.S. in a single season.

On July 8, a series of purposeful thunderstorms dumped 1.5 inches to more than 3 inches of rainfall across the desert valley of Las Vegas, sending floodwaters across nearly every part of the sprawling metropolitan area. The flooding claimed one life, and property damage exceeded $23 million.

A rare June snowfall in Los Angeles County left three inches on Mount Laguna, California, the latest seasonal snowfall on record at the site. Late-season snow in Southern California occurs only a few times each century.

Disastrous hurricanes

Hurricane Floyd
Emergency crews navigate through flooded roads in Greene County, North Carolina, in the wake of Hurricane Floyd.  

As predicted by National Weather Service scientists, the U.S. experienced an inordinately busy hurricane season with 12 tropical storms, eight of which became hurricanes. Even the weaker storms caused deaths and tremendous damage due to extensive inland flooding.

A capsule of the most devastating hurricanes of 1999:

On Aug. 2, Hurricane Bret struck land at Padre Island, Texas. Bret was only the 16th Category 4 storm to hit the U.S. and the fourth to strike the Texas coast since the state began keeping track. The hurricane drifted westward, dumping copious rainfall over southern Texas and causing a car accident that claimed four lives. Bret also caused $34 million in damages.

After lashing the coast of North Carolina as a hurricane, Dennis meandered about 100 miles off the coast as a tropical storm before regathering and turning back on the state's Outer Banks. The storm made landfall the second time, blowing 70-mph winds into north central North Carolina before dissipating through south central Virginia Sept. 6. In Dennis' wake, intense rains caused significant flooding in the mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast. Seven deaths were attributed to the storm.

Hurricane Floyd was one of the most accurately predicted but destructive hurricanes of the 20th century in the U.S. From Sept. 13 through Sept. 17, Floyd's heavy rains caused massive inland flooding, prompting 2.6 million people to flee their homes. An average of 10 inches to 20 inches of rainfall blanketed North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York and New England, claiming lives and leaving a broad swath of destruction.

Hurricane Irene brought heavy rains from the Florida Keys northward to central Virginia from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17. Parts of eastern North Carolina and eastern Virginia received more than 12 inches of additional rain, exacerbating the flooding initiated by Floyd. News sources reported that agricultural losses alone in Miami-Dade County, Florida, due to flooding associated with Irene could top $100 million.

Hurricane Lenny, an unusual low-latitude hurricane, battered portions of the Caribbean between Nov. 13 and Nov. 22. Lenny was the second strongest storm of the 20th century to hit the Virgin Islands, upstaged only by Hurricane David in 1979. The storm was responsible for 13 deaths. One of the survivors was a St. Maarten man who survived for two days on a life raft buffeted by 100-mph winds and 30-foot seas.

Persistent drought

Severe drought conditions persisted from the southeast U.S. into the northeast from July 1998 to September 1999. The drought had a devastating effect on crops and brought public water supplies to dangerously low levels. From April through July, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island were the driest they've been since NOAA's National Climatic Data Center began keeping record 105 years ago. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and West Virginia experienced their second-driest growing season. In addition, April through July ranks as the second driest such period on record for the Northeast as a whole. (The driest was in 1965.)

Summer Heat Wave

The latter half of July produced a heat wave over much of the eastern two-thirds of the country, with temperatures ranging from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit over wide stretches. By Aug. 3, 256 heat-related deaths had been reported nationwide.

Tornado outbreaks

Damage in Haysville, Kansas
Haysville, Kansas, was in the direct path of a May tornado.  

The costliest outbreak of tornados in American history ravaged the States in 1999. The deadliest of the year leveled parts of Oklahoma and Kansas on May 3 and 4. In less than 21 hours, 74 tornadoes touched down across the two states, many at the same time. An F-5 tornado, the strongest on the Fujita Tornado Scale, cut a 38-mile path from Chickasha to Oklahoma City and its suburbs: Bridge Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City. The Oklahoma City tornado was the most expensive in history, damaging 8,000 buildings and causing nearly a billion dollars of damage. Combined, the tornadoes killed 46 people and injured 800.

The disasters proved the effectiveness of the National Weather Service's tornado watch and warning program. Some areas received more than 30 minutes' notice before the destruction began. NOAA storm researchers estimate that more than 600 people would have died in the absence of such a program.


It was a long, hot and furious fire season in many parts of the U.S., including Alaska. Florida experienced major wildfires in the spring, towering infernos that darkened the skies over Miami at mid-day. Even the mid-Atlantic states saw a large number of wildfires in 1999. Out west, the Great Basin and northern Nevada in particular faced the worst fire season in 35 years. Wildfires consumed more than 1.4 million acres of land and brush in less than a week in August. Nevada alone accounted for nearly one-third of the 5.6 million acres consumed by wildfires across the 50 states. In California, several major forest fires that started in late summer burned for more than two months.
Firefighters were busy during last year's high season.  

The fire season was alive and well into November as wildfires burned from eastern Oklahoma to Kentucky. Large prairie fires, including the largest in Nebraska's history, consumed tens of thousands of acres across the central and northern plains.

If there is a happy story to be found in all the tragedy, it is the strides made in weather forecasting thanks to Doppler radar. NOAA scientists and other researchers adapted the airborne radar developed by the U.S. military during World War II for forecasting. The result is the Doppler weather radar system currently in use.

Advancements in computer technology have also contributed to advancements in weather prediction, providing meteorologists with the tools to apply physics in charting certain atmospheric functions.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Selected Web sites on the issue of climate change
December 29, 1999
Ten tips to help heal the planet
December 31, 1999
Computer model assesses wildfires
December 29, 1999

Weather: can't change it, so mitigate
Above average hurricane season predicted
Busy Atlantic hurricane season predicted
Mid-Atlantic states near record drought
Staying healthy in a heat wave
Prediction of flood-prone storms honed
Fire's role in global warming studied
Prescribed burn helps fire prediction efforts

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Weather Service
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