2019 was a year of triumph. And tragedy. One of hope. And heartbreak. Before we embark on 2020, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s content curation desk is taking a look back at the biggest stories of 2019 and their effects on Georgia and the rest of the nation. Today’s topic: Weather.
A polar vortex in late January brought frigid temperatures to more than half the country and was blamed for at least 27 deaths across eight states, according to official reports. Snow and record-breaking low temperatures that swept across the Midwest and Northern Plains closed schools and businesses, and it prompted suspension of mail delivery in more than a half-dozen states. Hospitals reported hundreds of cases of frostbite and hypothermia as overnight temperatures plummeted to minus 30 or lower in many areas — with some wind chills of minus 50 or worse.
At least 23 people were killed by a powerful tornado that ripped through East Alabama on March 3, plowing a path almost a mile wide and 24 miles long through Lee County along the Georgia border. The storm also left behind a path of destruction in Georgia, but there were no known fatalities despite cars being smashed and roofs being shredded.
The city of Talbotton, less than a two-hour drive southwest of Atlanta, got the worst of it in Georgia. The storm leveled nearly 20 properties there. The tornado was an EF4, the second strongest on the rating scale, according to the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
The second so-called "bomb cyclone" in less than a month hit the central United States on April 10.
The weather phenomenon made conditions go from balmy to a blizzard overnight in several states including Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota and New Mexico. Heavy snowfall disrupted ground and air travel; flights were canceled, numerous traffic crashes were reported, and interstates were closed down amid life-threatening conditions.
On May 27, a tightly packed swarm of tornadoes tore across Indiana and Ohio, smashing homes, blowing out windows and damaging buildings. One person was killed, and about 90 were injured. The storms were among 53 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down across eight states. During one week alone, authorities linked tornadoes to at least seven deaths and scores of injuries. Federal government weather forecasters logged preliminary reports of more than 500 tornadoes in a 30-day period. As of May, tornadoes were blamed for at least 38 deaths in the United States, including the fatality in Ohio.
A 6.4-magnitude earthquake rattled Southern California on Fourth of July morning, with dozens of aftershocks following. The temblor was centered in the Mojave Desert, near the town of Ridgecrest, about 120 miles outside of San Bernardino. Officials estimated the quake caused between $10 million and $100 million of damage. One of the aftershocks forced the NBA to postpone the finish of a Summer League game in Las Vegas. A WNBA game in Las Vegas was also stopped, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres played through the tremors during their game at Dodger Stadium.
In mid-July, a stifling heat wave gripped two-thirds of the country, with power outages reported in multiple Midwest and East Coast states as residents ran air conditioning nonstop to stay cool. The National Weather Service had 34 million people under heat advisories. From the Carolinas to Maine, daytime highs reached the upper 90s. Coupled with high humidity, temperatures felt as hot as 110 degrees in some places. Cities across the nation urged people, especially vulnerable populations, to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun. In Georgia, the heat wave brought record-breaking 95-degree temperatures to the Atlanta area in May, making the month the warmest on record, according to state climatologists.
3. Giant iceberg breaks from ice shelf
On Sept. 26, an iceberg about the size of Los Angeles broke away from the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The separation was the largest rift of an iceberg in more than half a century. The iceberg, which measured 632 square miles in area and 689 feet thick, weighed 315 billion tons. The giant block of ice is being tracked by satellites because of the potential danger it poses to shipping. Scientists said they don't believe the break is related to climate change.
As Hurricane Dorian bore down on the Bahamas in early September, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service took issue with President Trump after the commander in chief said to TV cameras — and on Twitter — that Alabama "will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" — even though the National Hurricane Center had the storm going nowhere near Alabama. Twenty minutes after Trump's briefing in the Oval Office, NWS-Birmingham sent out a rebuttal on Twitter. "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian," the agency stated. “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.” Later it was determined that the president had used an out-of-date National Hurricane Center forecast map as part of his briefing, and the map was altered with a black Sharpie pen — evidently to demonstrate a weather threat to Alabama — and support Trump's mention of the Yellowhammer State. A week earlier, there had been concerns that Dorian could go across the Florida Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening Alabama and the Gulf Coast. But by the time Trump warned residents in Alabama, the state was not in the sights of the hurricane at all.
On Sept. 1, Hurricane Dorian, a dangerous Category 5 storm, made landfall in the Bahamas. The slow-moving storm sat over the islands for two days, leaving it in utter ruin. At least five deaths were reported as punishing winds and floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics. The storm's trajectory put it on a path toward the East Coast of the United States. As the storm threatened to strike Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp ordered evacuations for residents east of Interstate 95 in six coastal counties. Days later, he lifted the order as Dorian's path shifted, keeping it at sea.
Check out the other stories in our year-end project:
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