Extreme Weather Events of 2021

From the historic February freeze in Texas to the catastrophic December tornado outbreak across the South and Midwest, 2021 had more than its fair share of impactful weather events.

Texas February Freeze

From Wednesday, Feb. 11 into Saturday, Feb. 20, winter weather highlights totaling 8 days, 23 hours and 23 minutes, from winter weather advisories to hard freeze warnings, were recorded across Texas. The electric grid was ill-equipped to handle the crashing temperatures and many were left without power, heat and even water.

The Texas Department of State Health Services updated the official death toll in July, claiming more than 200 people across the state died from hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and car crashes on ice-slicked roads. 

Intense Northwest Heat

The heat wave that baked the Pacific Northwest during late June buckled roads, melted cables and claimed the lives of more than 100 people in Oregon and Washington State alone as record-shattering temperatures soared in a region unaccustomed to extreme heat.

Eugene, Oregon, recorded an all-time high temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit on June 27, breaking the old record of 108. The Oregon capital of Salem also recorded an all-time high of 112. Meanwhile, in Seattle, temperatures hit 108 on Monday, June 28 — an all-time record for the city.

Portland saw temperatures soar to 116 degrees on June 28, the highest temperature on record and breaking the previous record of 112 set the day prior.

Blackouts also plagued the region, leaving thousands of people without power and without air conditioning in the locations that had units installed.

Over 100 deaths were attributed to the heat in Oregon and nearly another 60 in Washington State. Over 700 people died over the course of the heat wave in British Columbia, according to CBC in Canada — triple the number of deaths that would normally occur in the providence during a one-week period.

California wildfires

From Jan. 1 to Nov. 26, there were 52,729 wildfires compared to the 52,113 within the same timespan in 2020, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Overall, 2021 saw 58,000 fires that burned 7 million acres compared to the 57,000 fires that burned over 10 million acres in 2020.

The Dixie and Bootleg Fires were two of the most notable infernos. The Bootleg Fire consumed over 400,000 acres in Oregon before it was contained. The Dixie Fire, meanwhile, grew into the state’s second-largest fire on record, according to Cal Fire, second only to the August Complex Fire from 2020. The Dixie Fire burned nearly 1 million acres and left the California town of Greenville in ruins.

When Stormchaser Brandon Clement was on the scene in the town, he compared the devastation to what he imagined the aftermath of a nuclear bomb would look like. Metal street lamps that lined the streets were “wilted like dead flowers,” he said.

Hurricane Ida

For the first time ever, the National Weather Service office in New York City issued a flash flood emergency on the evening of Sept. 1, covering northeastern New Jersey, as Idaarrived in the Northeast as a tropical rainstorm. Shortly after, the alert was followed by the office’s second-ever flash flood emergency, now for New York City itself. Within one hour, Central Park was deluged with 3.15 inches of rainfall from 8:51 to 9:51 p.m., local time.

Hurricane Ida was a monster of a storm, making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With a barometric pressure of 27.46 inches of mercury (930 mb), Ida ranked as the seventh-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous U.S.

Quad-State Tornado Outbreak

December was an unprecedentedly active month for tornadoes. It isn’t uncommon for tornadoes to strike in December with about a 12-15% likelihood, but the chances are significantly lower than the 90% chance of a tornado occurring on a day in July, according to NOAA. The three-year average number of tornadoes in the month of December is 47. A total of 66 tornadoes have thus far been confirmed from the severe weather outbreak Dec. 10-11.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center listed 80 preliminary tornadoes through Dec. 14, prior to the month’s second tornado outbreak.

Two long-tracked tornadoes were confirmed amid the swarm, one of which was rated as an EF4. The twister tore through western Kentucky with a path length of 165.7 miles and estimated peak winds that reached 190 mph. Mayfield, Kentucky, was one of the towns in the tornado’s path.

Two weeks before Christmas and on the doorstep of winter, many families found their homes destroyed. The main hub of the Mayfield-Graves County Fire Department and Rescue Squad Station had also been demolished, along with all the equipment that was stored there. Only four vehicles from the station had been saved — the main Number 1 engine, two squad rescue trucks and a pickup truck that’s used to move equipment.

Kansas Wildfires and High Winds

Ranchers in western Kansas have begun to recover from the deadly wildfires that torched their land earlier this month, but they acknowledge it will be a long process.

Two men died and the Kansas Forest Service estimates that around 163,000 acres of land were burned on Dec. 15 in fast-spreading fires driven by wind gusts of up to 100 mph.

Nearly 300,000 acres were directly hit by both events with other areas having damage. “Probably some considerable damage to wheat, livestock feeding sources, the specialty crop industry with hoop houses or green houses and nursery stock.”

Beam says in some places more than 1,000 cows died and 3,000 to 5,000 miles of fences were burned. 

Marshall Fire

On December 30 in Boulder County, Colorado, 100 mph wind gusts blew down power lines near Boulder.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said in a briefing Friday morning that there have been no reports of fatalities on the 6,025-acre Marshall Fire southeast of Boulder, Colorado. That could change as crews assess the impacts of the fire, but if the number remains at zero, it would be very remarkable considering the rapid spread of the blaze which allowed some residents only minutes to escape. It is also a testament to the amazing job done by firefighters and law enforcement to make the necessary notifications, which no doubt saved lives.

There are 1,778 homes within the perimeter of the fire, but not all of them were affected by the fire, which burned in a mosaic pattern. Some entire subdivisions were “totally gone,” the Sheriff said, including the the Sagamore subdivision just west of Superior and the Old Town Superior area. Dozens more burned homes are west of Superior in the Marshall area, and on the south side of Louisville.

On Friday about 200 people were staying in emergency shelters.

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