Severe weather is upon us in the United States with damaging tornadoes hitting the southern states in late January and late February. One EF4 tornado also tore through Alabama and Georgia in early March, the worst of the roughly 100 reported tornado total so far in 2019. As we move into the spring and summer months, conditions historically become more volatile. Specifically from March to June, the highest chance of severe weather spreads north and east across the Plains, the Midwest, and Southeast. Like Hurricanes and Wildfires, Tornadoes have a peak season too.
The Great Galveston Storm of 1900
This barrier island along the gulf coast was home to millionaires and large elaborate mansions sprawling the coastline. The highest point of elevation being 8.7 feet above sea level, the community is ripe for devastation from a hurricane.
In the year 1900, this area was struck with a horrendous hurricane that would ultimately destroy the entirety of the community and kill an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people.
It seems strange to be talking about weather events that peak in the summer, like tornadoes, while we still have massive winter storms impacting much of the Northeastern United States. However, now is typically when we start shifting our focus onto the weather incidents of the upcoming summer season. The end of February is when tornado season starts to ramp up, and will typically peak around mid-June.
On October 21st, 2018, Typhoon Yutu began its development as a tropical depression, east of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth. Just hours later, the storm reached tropical storm strength over the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. During the period of the next three days Yutu would intensify to a Category 5 Typhoon. Around 2:00 AM on October 25th, Yutu made landfall on the Northern Mariana Islands. Satellite imagery shows the eye of the storm passing directly over the island Tinian (population 3,136), completely encompassing it as the devastation within the eye-wall continued on the surrounding islands of Saipan (population 52,263), Rota (population 2,477), and Guam. The damage received during the typhoon’s arrival would leave the island communities nearly unrecognizable. Yutu would be recorded as the strongest storm to impact a US territory in 2018, and the strongest to impact the Northern Mariana Islands in recorded history.
Super Typhoon Yutu’s Conditions Upon Landfall in the Northern Mariana Islands
Sustained Winds: Sustained 180 mph, Gusting over 200 mph
Storm Surge: Up to 20 feet
Rainfall: Up to 10 inches
The tone of the statements released by officials leading up to the storms arrival was indicative of the damages that would be seen in the days prior to Yutu’s landfall. The National Weather Service office in Guam released this frightening message before the storms arrival, “Most homes will sustain severe damage, with potential for complete roof failure and wall collapse. Most industrial buildings will be destroyed.” These comments proved to be unnervingly valid once the storm had passed.
After the preliminary aerial damage assessments were completed on October 29th, the figures shown below give insight to just how severe the damages are.
These aerial images released by DigitalGlobe give further testament to the absolute devastation that occurred in the disaster area.
It is estimated that these communities will be without power for months in the wake of Typhoon Yutu. Saipan currently has 99 percent of its community without power, Tinian is 100 percent out of power, and the small island of Rota has restored power to 99 percent of the island.
In the 96 hours after the storm’s passing, 121 storm related emergency room visits were recorded. Unfortunately two lives have been lost from this community during this natural disaster.
Yutu continued on its path of destruction after it passed over the Mariana Islands, its next stop, the Philippines. Even though the storm’s intensity, in terms of wind speeds was not as great in this impact area, the devastation was still staggering. With the Philippines already saturated with moisture from the Typhoon Mangkhut, the unwelcomed rainfall from Yutu exacerbated the troubles for locals in the mountainous areas of the Philippines. As the storm hit, the rainfall caused massive landslides throughout the countryside. Roads throughout the impact area have been blocked by debris making recovery efforts difficult for the first responders. As the recovery process is continues, it truly paints the picture of how bad these events really are for these communities.
This past weekend, from Saturday into Monday morning, much of the Northern California Bay Area was under a Red Flag Warning due to strong winds around 40 mph with gusts to 60 mph. Despite much of the country receiving some level of precipitation recently, California remains just above the drought threshold. The gusty winds and dry fuels the state sees every fall leads to heightened fire weather conditions this time of year. Fortunately, with this strongest wind event thus far this Fall, fire agencies across the region responded rapidly and en masse to any new reports of ignition.
“Of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.”
Transitioning out of Western Fire Season
Most of the Western fire season began the seasonal transition out of its peak in early September with fall’s cooler temperatures and precipitation. October and November mark another transition as the focus typically shifts to California where fire activity remains a major concern with summer-dried fuels and occasional Foehn wind events develop across California until winter rains come.
Brief Look Back to October 2017
Monday, October 8th, marked one year since 21 major wildfires started across Northern California and devastated the Napa-Sonoma area. Collectively the fires burned more than 245,000 acres over the course of the month. The Northern California Firestorm, as it came to be called, destroyed nearly 9,000 structures and was responsible for 44 civilian fatalities and caused 14.5 billion dollars in damages.
The fire spread was remarkable as ember showers spread from house to house throughout several communities and the fires moved at record-setting speeds. Gusting and strong winds were an instrumental driving force behind the massive levels of damage caused by the conflagrations. What wasn’t record setting was this type of fire weather happening in October or later in California. As the table below shows, of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.
Obviously all that late season activity means, historically, the Western Fire Season is far from over in California. Fire Departments remain at full staffing, on the ready, with ears perked to every new start that could be the next big one…especially with the fire weather possibilities this time of year. RedZone does the same, and those of you in the insurance world reading this, so too should you. Those 14 wildfires have collectively caused tens of billions of dollars in damage over the years.