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The 20 Weirdest Things We've Seen in 2020's Weather So Far

By Jonathan Erdman

July 02 2020 12:40 PM EDT

weather.com

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At a Glance

  • This year's weather has been a strange mix the first six months.
  • Extreme warmth has occurred in unusual areas or in unusual times of year.
  • We've also seen a number of oddities early in the hurricane season.
  • Winter snow in parts of the U.S. was strangely absent.
  • It's also been a weird year for tornadoes in several aspects.

This year has been sobering and life-altering for reasons that have little to do with weather, but the weather has also been bizarre in many ways.

Strange heat, early-season tropical anomalies, late-season snow and severe weather that either repeatedly hammered an area or was largely absent from a typically prone alley are among the oddities that make our top 20 list for the weirdest weather events we've seen so far in 2020.

20. Toilet Paper, Not Snowman, During Quarantine

Let's start on a light note.

During the spring COVID-19 quarantine, stores ran low on toilet paper for a time.

So when a mid-April snowstorm blanketed the Missouri Valley of Nebraska and Iowa, one family wasn't content to simply make a snowman. They made toilet paper snow sculpture.

The wet spring snow even allowed the family to create the loose end of the toilet paper.

19. Bomb Cyclone, Blizzard Buries Newfoundland City

Atlantic Canada is infamous for intense storms. But a January storm was a record-setter in one city.

A bomb cyclone hammered Newfoundland, Canada, on Jan. 17, burying the provincial capital St. John's in 30 inches of snow, its highest daily snowfall on record.

Wind gusts up to 97 mph whipped the snow into massive drifts up to 15 feet high, burying vehicles, blocking roads and filling backyards, prompting a state of emergency in the city. It even triggered a small avalanche that crashed through the living room of one St. John's home.

18. Saharan Dust Thickest in Over a Decade, Reaches The Midwest

Plumes of hot and dry air laden with dust from Africa's Sahara Desert commonly surge westward across the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean Sea early in the hurricane season. They usually reach parts of the U.S. near the Gulf Coast at least once from June through August.

But one such Saharan dust outbreak in June was unusually potent and far-reaching.

FEMA scientist Michael Lowry noted it was the densest since at least 2003 in a strip of the Atlantic Ocean from east of the Lesser Antilles to the west African coast. It was the densest over Puerto Rico in at least 15 years, University of Puerto Rico atmospheric chemist Olga Mayol-Bracero told weather.com.

The dust plume surged as far north as parts of the Midwest, as noted in hazy skies over Omaha, Nebraska, in the last weekend of June.

17. South Florida Sets Over 120 Daily Warm Records

Florida warmth may not sound weird, but persistent heat crushed records in the first half of 2020.

It kicked into high gear with the state's record hottest and second driest March dating to 1895. On one mid-April day, Miami failed to drop below 80 degrees for the first time on record in April.

It only grew more miserable in June.

As National Hurricane Center meteorologist Eric Blake noted, Miami had its hottest week on record in late June. In the last 10 days of the month, it dipped below 80 degrees only once, on the morning after Father's Day. Miami ended June by tying its second hottest all-time temperature of 98 degrees.

It's been the warmest first half of any year on record not only in Miami, but also in Fort Myers, Orlando and West Palm Beach, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

Taken together, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Key West set over 120 combined daily warm records in 2020, according to NBC6 Miami chief meteorologist John Morales.

This graph shows 2020 daily temperatures through June 30 at Miami International Airport. The top and bottom of each daily temperature is shown by the blue bars. Daily record highs and lows are shown by the top of the red and light blue graphs, with above and below-average temperatures illustrated by the light red and light blue-shaded areas.
(NOAA/ACIS)

16. Two Most Tornado-Prone Months With Fewest Since 1950s

Over the last 20 years, May (272) and June (202) have averaged the most tornadoes in the U.S., but 2020 ripped up that script.

Only 59 tornadoes were estimated by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in May, the fewest in any May since at least 1970, possibly since the 1950s.

The tornado swoon continued in June, with only 50 tornadoes estimated by the SPC, fewest since the early 1950s.

These monthly tallies are more on par with an average October or November, instead of two months notorious for destructive tornadoes and outbreaks.

Only three of those tornadoes – two in May and one in June – were rated at least EF2, both record-low stronger tornado totals for each month.

What's also remarkable is the lack of tornadoes in parts of the most tornado-prone Plains states of Oklahoma and Kansas not just in May or June, but also in the year-to-date.

A pair of weather patterns largely unfavorable for tornado-spawning severe thunderstorms were in place in May 2020. A generally unfavorable pattern for tornadoes with persistent high pressure over the nation's mid-section characterized June as well.

Tornado watches issued in 2020 through June 30. Parts of tornado-prone Kansas, central and western Oklahoma were not covered by a single tornado watch in the first half of the year.
(NOAA/NWS/SPC)

15. Three EF4 Tornadoes Within 40 Miles in a Week's Time

While May and June were strangely quiet, April was much more active, particularly for one hard-hit part of Mississippi.

An Easter Sunday outbreak spawned a pair of EF4 tornadoes in southern Mississippi.

The next Sunday, another EF4 tornado tore through an area only 20 to 40 miles south of the previous Easter Sunday EF4 tornadoes.

Mississippi hadn't seen multiple violent (at least EF4) tornadoes in any year – much less one week's time – since the devastating April 2011 Super Outbreak, when an EF4 and two EF5 tornadoes hammered parts of eastern Mississippi on April 27.

These three EF4 tornadoes and a nearby EF3 Easter Sunday tornado carved a combined 227 miles of destruction through southern Mississippi within seven days.

The paths of the EF4 tornadoes on Easter Sunday (April 12) and April 19, 2020, tornadoes are shown in red. The Easter Sunday EF3 tornado is shown in orange.
(Data: NWS)

14. Northeast Snow Takes a Vacation

As far as snow was concerned, you could say parts of the East really didn't have much of a winter season in 2019-20.

Neither Philadelphia nor Washington D.C. could scrape up a measly inch of snow the entire season. Only the 1972-73 season was less snowy in Philadelphia than 2019-20. Philadelphia averages about 22 inches of snow each season.

"The overall winter pattern set up for many 'Colorado low alley' type winter storms," winter weather expert Tom Niziol told weather.com, referring to a storm track northeastward from the High Plains of eastern Colorado into the Plains.

If a nor'easter did form, it either was too far offshore and moved away quickly or lacked cold air. Most often, low pressure tracked well inland, instead of offshore, pumping warmer air into the East and taking snow off the table, particularly along the Interstate 95 urban corridor.

13. A Rare Western Derecho

Long-lived lines of severe thunderstorms producing damaging thunderstorm winds hundreds of miles long known as derechos are more common in the Plains, Midwest and South.

On the first Saturday in June, however, a derecho got its start over the canyonlands of Utah, before racing 750 miles northeast into the Dakotas in just 12 hours.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center noted it was only the third derecho documented west of the Rockies. The SPC noted this derecho produced the most 75 mph or stronger thunderstorm wind gusts in a single day since at least 2004. A gust to 110 mph was measured near Winter Park, Colorado.

12. Flooded For Over a Year

Imagine a flood that doesn't recede in days or weeks. Along one South Dakota river, it's lasted over a year.

Heavy rain and snowmelt from a Plains bomb cyclone sent the James River in South Dakota above flood stage in April 2019.

Roughly 15 months later, it still hadn't dropped below flood stage near the towns of Columbia and Stratford in the northeast part of the state.

"The river levels never fell in the winter because the ground was fully saturated when it froze last fall," Amy Parkin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen, South Dakota, told NASA.

Last year was the wettest year on record in South Dakota, according to NOAA. This year has trended drier, but typical spring snowmelt has kept water levels high along stretches of the river.

This plot of the river stage along the James River near Stratford, South Dakota, shows it has been above flood stage (14 feet) since April 2019.
(USGS)

11. Australian Wildfire Smoke Circles the Globe

The catastrophic 2019-20 Australian bushfires charred more than 20% of the country's forests, destroyed over 1,400 homes, and killed an estimated 1 billion animals.

In January, smoke from the fires grabbed the attention of scientists as it circumnavigated the globe.

The smoke first arrived in South America, 7,500 miles away, producing hazy skies in Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Later in the month, some of the smoke completed the around-the-world journey just south of Australia.

And as it turned out, the smoke plume rose higher into the atmosphere than ever previously documented.

Analysis of smoke plumes (in yellow) on Jan. 6, 2020, spanning roughly 7,500 miles across the southern Pacific Ocean. The approximate location of the south Pacific jet stream is highlighted by the blue, purple and white arrows.

10. Boston Reaches the 70s in January During a Meeting of Meteorologists

Boston instead soared into the 70s two days in a row on the weekend of Jan. 11-12, during typically the coldest time of year, and smashed its all-time January record on the 12th (74 degrees).

Boston had previously reached 70 degrees in January just twice, in 1876 and 1950. Its average high that time of year is only 36 degrees.

Coincidentally, the 100th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society kicked off that weekend in Boston. Instead of a nor'easter, warm winds that ruled the weekend for the annual gathering of meteorologists and scientists.

In Boston, a daily record high on Saturday, Jan. 11, was followed by an all-time January record high on Sunday, Jan. 12.

9. Lake Erie's Ice Machine Breaks

Lake Erie was ice free from Dec. 29 through Jan. 17 and then again for four days after Groundhog Day, according to NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. After spiking briefly to just under 16% ice coverage on Leap Day, the lake was ice free for the season beginning on March 10.

In an average winter, the lake reaches a peak of 70% ice coverage in February, and isn't ice free until late April.

Lack of ice cover and record or near-record lake levels left downwind lakeshores susceptible to flooding when strong low-pressure systems moved through. In late February, one such storm whipped lake spray onto homes, encasing them in ice.

It also allowed bands of lake-effect snow to blanket parts of New York state and Michigan, an infrequent occurrence in April.

This photo looking southeast shows the largely ice-free Great Lakes on Feb. 21, 2020.
(NASA Earth Observatory)

8. Two Hawaii Tornado Warnings in One Day, First in 11 Years

In mid-March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was setting in, something else weird happened in our 50th state.

On St. Patrick's Day morning, a pair of tornado warnings were issued by the National Weather Service in the western Hawaiian Islands. Since 1986, only two tornado warnings had previously been issued in Hawaii, the most recent one in December 2008.

While no tornadoes were confirmed, Doppler radar certainly showed strong rotation. The last confirmed tornado in Hawaii was an EF0 landspout on Oahu on April 23, 2015.

7. Five Tornadoes at Once

Seeing one tornado is rare enough. This May video, however, was a high five.

Televisa correspondent Morán de la Mora shared this amazing video of multiple landspout tornadoes on May 1 between in Mexico's Puebla state, between Mexico City and Veracruz. As one meteorologist replied, there were actually five landspout tornadoes at once.

Landspout tornadoes aren't associated with supercells, but occur when a growing thunderstorm's rising air vertically stretches spin along a boundary of convergent winds.

In this case, there were multiple thunderstorms growing along such a boundary, leading to this incredible sight of five landspouts.

6. Lightning vs. Electric Fence

WXIA meteorologist Chris Holcomb shared this incredible still image from a viewer in north Georgia that captured what happened when lightning struck an electric fence on Father's Day, June 21.

You can see smoke tracing the perimeter of the fence along with some smoldering embers. The fence surrounds what appears to be a number of bee hives.

5. When Northern Maine Was the Nation's Hot Spot

The week before Father's Day, some may have wondered if temperature maps were upside down in the East.

Caribou, Maine, one of the farthest-north towns in the continental U.S., was one of the hottest place east of the Mississippi River. Temperatures soared to 95 degrees on June 18, then 96 degrees the next day. The city tied its all-time heat record dating to 1939. On June 19, the nation's only heat advisory was in northern and Downeast Maine.

After this hot stretch, Caribou had as many 90-degree days through June 19 as Birmingham, Alabama. Caribou's average high in mid-June is in the low 70s.

As that was happening, parts of the typically hot Carolinas saw consecutive days of record-cool high temperatures. Florence, North Carolina, stayed below 70 degrees for 43 straight hours. Only 1967 and 1997 saw longer June streaks there.

Actual high temperatures in the eastern U.S. on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

4. Mother's Day Record Cold, New York City's Record Latest Snow

Just as the East gave up on winter, an extreme weather pattern delivered teeth-rattling cold to the East, Midwest and South for Mother's Day weekend.

Van Wert, Ohio, plunged to 18 degrees on May 9, the first time it had dropped into the teens in May in 127 years of records.

All-time May records were set in Binghamton, New York; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Indianapolis and New York's LaGuardia Airport.

A brief period of snow after midnight on May 9 tied New York City's latest snowfall in spring with another such occurrence in 1977.

Detroit picked up at least a trace of snow five straight days, a May record.

And just six weeks before its bizarre heat wave, this cold Mother's Day pattern prompted the first May winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service in Caribou, Maine, in at least 15 years.

3. Cristobal's Midwest Adventure

Before Tropical Storm Cristobal, the remnants of just three other Atlantic tropical cyclones had tracked through Wisconsin or its adjacent Lake Michigan waters in more than 100 years of records. The other three remnant systems were Gilbert in 1988, an unnamed former hurricane in 1949 and the former Galveston Hurricane from 1900, the nation's deadliest.

Cristobal was different from those systems because its remnant traversed the entire length of the state to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan border.

That's the farthest west on record a tropical cyclone remnant from the Atlantic Basin has tracked through the Badger State.

(MORE: Six Weird Things About the 2020 Hurricane Season, So Far)

2. Eastern Pacific Tropical Depression a First For April

While not quite as rare in the Atlantic Basin, no tropical depression, storm or hurricane had been documented in April over the eastern Pacific Ocean since the mid-20th century.

Until 2020.

Tropical Depression One-E formed well south of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula on April 25. It only lasted 18 hours, but it still became the basin's first April tropical cyclone of record.

Previously, the earliest Eastern Pacific tropical depression or storm occurred just three years prior, when Tropical Storm Adrian formed off the coast of El Salvador and Guatemala on May 9, 2017.

1. Siberia's Extreme Heat

By far the strangest thing we've seen in the weather so far in 2020 has also been the most disturbing.

On June 20, the high temperature in Verkhoyansk, a town in northeast Russia about 260 miles south of the Arctic coast and about 6 miles north of the Arctic Circle, topped out at 38 degrees Celsius, or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

This extreme temperature was confirmed by the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring after a request from the World Meteorological Organization, topping the city's previous record set on July 25, 1988.

It may also have been the hottest temperature on record north of the Arctic Circle, according to Etienne Kapikian, a meteorologist with Meteo France.

Siberia, one of the world's coldest places in winter, reached 100 degrees (F) this year before Dallas or Houston did.

The average high in late June in Verkhoyansk is only in the upper 60s, or around 20 degrees Celsius.

Ten days later, Ust'-Olenek, Russia, soared to 34.3 degrees Celsius (93.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The average high temperatures, there, are only around 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit), according to meteorologist Scott Duncan.

This town on Russia's Arctic coast about 2,500 miles northeast of Moscow and over 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle may have registered the farthest north Arctic 90-degree temperature on record, according to an analysis by Alaska-based climatologist Brian Brettschneider.

This wasn't simply a June story.

Berkeley Earth lead scientist Robert Rohde noted Russia clobbered its record warmest January-May period in 2020 by a whopping 1.9 degrees Celsius over the previous record warmest first five months of a year, 2016.

The persistent warm and dry weather fueled wildfires which already began scorching parts of northern Russia in April and continued to burn into June.

Departure from average temperatures (in degrees Celsius) from Mar. 19 - June 20, 2020 over Russia. Verkhoyansk, which soared to 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on June 20, is labeled.
(NASA Earth Observatory)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.