The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama

Volume 4, Number 10, July 2014

July was cool. To paraphrase the Tonight Show audience, how cool was it?

Pretty cool. We saw three legitimate cold fronts arrive from the north, setting several records for both daily low temperatures and for cool daytime highs. In Montgomery, where weather observations go back to 1872, the all-time July record low temperature set in 2009 was tied at 59° F on Wednesday, July 30.

Both Muscle Shoals and Hamilton, with substantially shorter weather records, saw their coolest high temperature records for the month of July broken, when each saw a day with the high temperature of only 71° F.

There were some noteworthy readings scattered about the state. Scottsboro set a daily record for July 14, when the temperature dropped to 49°. That broke the previous record for that day, 55°, which was set on July 14, 1897! When you break a record that stood for more than 110 years and you do it by six degrees, that's noteworthy.

Hamilton's climate record isn't as long, but the record-setting chilly high temperature on July 19 was also noteworthy. Not only was it Hamilton's coolest July high on record, it broke the record for July 19 by 14 degrees!

Huntsville and Tuscaloosa each saw their daily record low highs for July 18 broken by eleven degrees, as did Gainesville on July 19.

It will be a couple of days before our friends in the National Weather Service tally the statewide average temperature for July, but we won't be surprised if it turns out to be one of the coolest on record.

July temperatures like these fit into the state's 130-year cooling trend, although we can't use that trend to make accurate forecasts. Mother Nature can turn things around at any time and give us summer hot spells like those the old timers remember from the 1930s and early 1950s.

Speaking of past times, this August is the 75th anniversary of the wettest August in the state's official 119-year climate record. While Alabama averages 5.5" of rain in August, and the third wettest August on record (1942) saw only 6.87", the statewide average rainfall of August 1939 was 11.12".

As is so often the case in Alabama, that extraordinary rainfall was brought to us by a hurricane (back in the day before someone gave every hurricane, depression and thunderstorm a name), which deteriorated into a tropical depression that lingered over the state for three days before moving on to cause flooding up the east coast to Virginia, Maryland, and New York.

While the official record seems to largely overlook any damage in Alabama, the storm drenched much of Alabama from the Florida line to Birmingham. The Red Cross estimated that between 4,500 and 5,000 people were forced out of their homes. Crop damage was estimated in the millions of dollars (multiply by 17 to get the current value).

Prattville seemed to be at the epicenter of flooding. An AP story from Aug. 16, 1939, said: "Flood waters, already inundating a wide swatch of this Central Alabama town, moved upward this afternoon as alarming high water conditions developed further downstream."

One person was killed when a locomotive he was driving hit a washout and rolled into deep floodwater.

A Coast Guard boat sent north from Mobile to lend aid in rescuing stranded refugees had to stop at Miller's Ferry because the Alabama River was so high there wasn't enough space between the water and a bridge for the boat to squeeze through.

Official rainfall records for the month show some pretty staggering amounts:

Geneva                  23.73"
Centreville                  18.65"
Clanton                  18.22"
Montgomery         15.58"
Greenville                  13.37"
Birmingham         11.45"
Auburn                    9.34"

A story published on Sunday, Aug. 20, noted that the flooding on the Alabama River had splashed "within three feet of the record 1884 flood."

Other places outside the storm system saw less rain. Waterloo, in the northwest corner of the state, was the driest spot in the state with only 1.63" of rain for the entire month of August 1939.

August 1939 is especially worth noting because we are still in the hurricane season. Just because Aug. 23 will mark nine years since a major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricane hit the U.S. doesn't mean we shouldn't be prepared. Even an unremarkable storm like the hurricane of August 1939 can be a record breaker.