Laura Parker and Jessie Halladay
Thursday, August 3, 2000, 3A]
If you think the weather is strange this summer, your're right. It is.
It's been cool in the Northeast where it should be sweltering, and sweltering
in the upper Midwest where it should be cool. The south is so parched that deer
are dying in the fields of Texas. The Flint River in southwest Georgia is so low
that the striped bass has completely disappeared from the upper channel. In
fact, the entire state of Georgia, as well as Alabama, has been declared an
agricultural disaster area.
In the West, dry winds and weeks without rain have created a tinderbox so dry that the Army and
Marines have been called up to fight the worst fire season since 1988. Three dozen
giant fires have consumed from than 3.5 million acres of forestland and destroyed seven
homes in nine states. And August has only just begun.
Even up in International Falls, Minn., where balmy and 69 is the norm, the thermostat
seems like it's been stuck in the 90s for weeks. "We're supposed to be the ice
box of the nation," says Diane Dickson, the manager of the local Dairy Queen, where
Blizzards, an ice cream tret, are selling at a brisk pace. "It's been very hot."
The weather, as usual, is blamed for a host of other occurrences, from power blackouts
in California caused by a heat wave to pitifully small crowds at Atlantic Ocean beach
resorts because of cold rains. The Federal Aviation Administration is blaming this
summer's snarled air traffic, in part, on an increase in thunderstorms in the Midwest
The weather has been so grim in New England that vacationers are fleeing. In Boston,
the temperature did not reach 90 degrees once in July. It also rained almost twice as
much as usual: 5.2 inches, compared with the average 2.84.
"Whenever the weather is this bad for this long, renters will come to the cottage
owners and say they have to leave because of a death in the family and ask for a refund,"
says Wendy Northcross of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. "The owners have gotten
pretty savvy about this. A lot of them ask to see a copy of the obituary."
Says Dean O'Keefe, marketing manager at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Mass.,
"We've had more staff than visitors on some days." Not that the weather has been all
bad. New York's unseasonably heavy rains and cool weather have kept the mosquito population
small. That's a huge help to officials fighting the mosquito-carried West Nile virus
Washington, D.C., which is usually miserably humid this time of year, had the coolest
July since 1918.
Along Tornado Alley in north Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, there have been fewer tornadoes.
That's good news. The sizzling Texas heat is not."I'm getting the hell out of hell," says
Allan Dale, 72, a retiree who has lived in El Paso for the past 15 years.
Hellish summer weather along the Rio Grande River is normal for July and August. What's
not normal is that it started in May. Temperatures rose above 100 degrees in May for the
first time in three decades, according to meteorologists in San Antonio and Austin. Across
the South and Southwest, the drought continues into its third rainless summer.
In Texas, 195 of 254 counties in the state have been declared disaster areas. The city
of Throckmorton, 160 miles west of Dallas, has 60 days of water left and is building a
20-mile emergency pipeline to the city of Graham, which has offered to share its water.
"If you could see what the fields are like, you'd just want to sit down and cry," says
Shirley Matejka, meteorologist in the National Weather Service's San Antonio office in
west-central Texas. "They're bare, they're brown. Sometimes you aren't sure if the
farmer has planted anything. It just looks pitiful." San Angelo got 0.02 inches of
rain last month, compared with an average 4.5 inches.
Why Is This Happening?
Depending on who's doing the explaining, weird weather has many causes. The Millennium theory is
currently in vogue with those who associate hurricanes, droughts and floods with prophecies
that anticipate the end of the world.
Pollution and urbanization get the blame for heat waves in places such as Florida and
Southern California. Last week, searing heat prompted officials in Los Angeles to issue
power-saving warnings that included turning down air conditioners.
Kert Davies of the Ozone Action group in Washington, D.C., sees the drought, heavy
rains and heat as sure signs the ozone layer is disappearing. "They're in line with
predictions that have been coming for years that global warming will affect the
weather," he says.
National Weather Service experts blame weather-pattern culprit La Nina. Large pools
in the Pacific Ocean near the equator cause cooler (La Nina) ocean temperatures, which,
in turn, affect the jet stream as it crosses North America. That prompts a variety
of weather anomalies, ranging from intense heat to chilly winds. Ants Leetmaa, director
of the weather service's Climate Prediction Center in Camp
Springs, Md., says a weakening La Nina has been affecting weather for two years. We're
close to setting 100-year records in many areas," Leetmaa says.
Despite its weakening condition, La Nina is expected to continue to affect weather
patterns for months to come. "We don't see it going away overnight," he says.
So is there any place at the moment where the weather is great? Try the Pacific Northwest,
usually noted for its gray skies and endless mist. Mark Twain once wrote that he spent
the worst winter in his life in Seattle one summer.
This year, the weather is a close to perfect as it gets. It was a big topic at Seattle's
16th Annual Block Watch Night Out Tuesday. "Everyone was talking about how nice it
has been," says Ref Lindmark, a neighborhood activist. "The newcomers were asking if it's
always this nice. And the old-timers said, "This is the nicest summer they could remember."
N.M. Felt the Heat in 2000
By John Fleck
Saturday, December 30, 2000]
Despite a late autumn blast of cold, 2000 ended as one of the warmest
years on record in New Mexico. It continues a warming trend dating to the mid-1970s,
with four of the 10 warmest years on record in Albuquerque coming in the past decade.
The second-warmest May on record capped the year, a month that brought
drought and devastating forest fires to the state.
The cold October and November took the edge off what would otherwise
have been a record warm year and also brought much-needed rain and snow.
Despite a single cold spell, December was also 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer
than average through Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
New Mexico is officially out of the drought, according to the latest
drought-severity maps compiled by the federal government's Climate
Prediction Center. But coming after two consecutive dry winters, this year's wet spell is not
yet enough to fill reservoirs and quiet concerns about the long-range water
outlook for the state, said Charlie Liles, head of the National Weather
Service's Albuquerque office. "We've really got to wait and see how the winter
goes to see how we are," Liles said.
Snowpack in many of the state's mountains is still below normal for this
time of year. Only the river basins with their headwaters in the Sangre de
Cristos are significantly above normal, according to the Natural Resources
For the first half of the year, La Nina -- a pool of colder-than-normal water
in the Pacific -- dominated our weather. Forecasters blamed it for the dry winter of 1999-2000, a second
consecutive such winter that laid the groundwork for the most devastating
wildfire year in New Mexico history, with nearly half a million acres burned.
March was the exception, with 1.27 inches of rain at the Albuquerque
airport, making it the second-wettest March since 1892. That was not
enough to make up for the rest of the dry weather, leaving spring drier than
average. The summer rains came early this year, but they were "sporadic and below
par," according to Liles. That was especially true in Albuquerque, the state's
largest population center, though other areas of the state saw a better
monsoon, Liles said.
The National Weather Service station at the Albuquerque airport received
2.12 inches of rain during the monsoon season, 61 percent of normal.
Statewide, New Mexico received 93 percent of its normal summer rain.
When talking about weather, averages can be deceptive. It is almost always
either wetter or drier than average, warmer or colder.
But the average temperatures told an especially meaningful story this
year, with nine straight months in Albuquerque that were warmer than the
long-range average. From January through the end of September, average monthly
temperatures stayed above normal -- in some cases far above normal.
In Albuquerque, the average daytime high for May was 85, 5 degrees above
normal. Overnight lows that month averaged 55, almost 6 degrees above the
long-range average. Liles offered this unusual aside -- despite being so warm, Albuquerque
never hit 100 degrees in 2000. Since 1954, we have averaged four 100-plus
days a year. This year's high was 99 on June 15.
The forecast for precipitation in 2001 remains murky, but the National
Weather Service expects the higher temperatures to continue.
La Nina is still not gone completely, but it has weakened to near nothing,
leaving forecasters with little to go on in predicting our late winter and spring
precipitation. Computer climate simulations point toward a return of warm El Nino Pacific
waters at some point in 2001.
If El Nino returns, that could mean a wet winter in 2001-2002. But it is not
yet clear when that might happen.