The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama
Climatologist

Volume 5, Number 9 June 2015

It isn't that the weather in June was normal, but it was. Like the leap second that was added to the official clocks in June, it happened but with a couple of exceptions it wasn't all that much to talk about.

First, the exceptions. It was generally a bit warmer and drier than normal across Alabama in June. Parts of northwest Alabama were much drier: Russellville recorded only 0.22 inches of rain for the month of June, a new record for the month.

That level of drought, however, was found only in one region. Other places saw some rain. Decatur had its wettest June day on record on June 1 when 3.26 inches of rain fell in one day. And the CoCoRAHs volunteer in Chilton County reported 10.1 inches of rain for the month.

But those were the exceptions. Instead of fretting over averages, let's look back just a few years to July 2005. Friday, July 10, is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Dennis arriving in Alabama, and this year is the tenth anniversary of the most active and most destructive Atlantic hurricane season on record.

Dennis was a killer before it arrived near Pensacola on July 10. It hit Cuba, twice, and Haiti as a strong Category 4 (almost 5) hurricane, leaving behind at least 32 fatalities and millions of dollars in damage. It came ashore on the Florida panhandle as a Category 3 hurricane, with winds of about 120 mph. (The panhandle and south Alabama were at that time still recovering from Hurricane Ivan the previous September.)

While U.S. damage estimates from Dennis were between one billion and two and a half billion dollars, making it one of the 15 most costly storms of all time, damage in Alabama was moderate. Dennis had dropped from a Category 3 hurricane to a minimal Category 1 by the time it crossed the Florida-Alabama line. About 500,000 people were evacuated and 280,000 lost power.

Rainfall from the storm generally averaged between two and four inches, although there were isolated reports of as much as 12.8". The National Weather Service monthly precipitation estimates for July 2005 include an area in western Mobile County with rainfall over 20 inches.

Dennis was a rare powerful storm for July, with peak winds of 150 mph, setting a new record for the most powerful Atlantic July hurricane. It was a record that would last for all of a week, until Hurricane Emily arrived on the scene.

Of course, there was much worse on its way in 2005. Emily, a category 5 hurricane, was followed later in the year by category 5 hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, with category 3 hurricanes Maria and Beta thrown in for good measure. Official estimates put the death toll from that hurricane season at 3,913 and damages at a record $159 billion.

And those were the last major hurricanes the U.S. has seen. The last major (category 3 or stronger) hurricane to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. This is already the longest major hurricane "drought" on record for the U.S. The odds are against that drought continuing much longer, although we have an El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event going this summer. Major hurricanes are less common during El Niño years.

Major hurricane or not, the damage that can be caused by any run-of-the-mill tropical system — such as the flooding caused by tropical storm Bill in June — remind us that right now is the best time to check our severe weather preparations. If you aren't sure where to start, you can find some useful information on the web at ready.gov.

- John Christy