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By Meteorologist Randy Mann
Article published on January 2, 2021

Extreme weather events impacted many parts of the world in 2020, including North Idaho. In the Northern Hemisphere, one of the biggest events was the Atlantic and Caribbean tropical storm and hurricane season. For 2020, it was the most active in recorded history. It was the fifth consecutive season with above normal named storms and broke the record for the most named systems with 30. The previous record was back in 2005 with 28 named storms. The season also featured 13 hurricanes with six them developing into major systems. There were 431 fatalities and total damage from these storms was nearly $47 billion.

Thanks, at least in part, to the cooling of ocean waters along the Equator, these storms began forming much earlier than they normally do. It was the sixth consecutive year with a tropical storm developing before the official start of the season on June 1. Of the 30 named storms, 12 of them hit the U.S. in 2020, which was another record. Hurricane Zeta was the sixth hurricane to hit the U.S., tying records set back in 1886 and 1985 for the most landfalls by a hurricane in a single season. In Louisiana, there were five storms that hit that state, including Hurricane Laura, a powerful Category 4 storm that made landfall on August 27 in the southwestern part of the state.

September is normally the peak of the tropical storm and hurricane season. During that month, there were a record 10 named storms. For only the second time in recorded history, there were three named storms that formed on the same day. This occurred on September 18 with the formation of Wilfred, Alpha and Beta. At the official end of the season in November, there were two major hurricanes, which was another record.

From January through May, there were 10 instances of severe weather that resulted in over $1 billion in damage across the southern and eastern U.S. One twister resulted in widespread damage to Nashville, Tennessee in early March. For all of 2020, according to NOAA, there were 16 weather disasters that resulted in over $1 billion in damage in the U.S.

On August 10, a derecho, a widespread and long-lived straight-line wind storm, formed in the central U.S. and was referred to as a rare “inland hurricane” with winds as high as 112 miles per hour near Iowa City, Iowa. This event caused huge amounts of damage to corn and soybeans in the heart of the Midwest. Many areas reported that corn was flattened by the powerful derecho that extended from Nebraska northward to Wisconsin and eastward all the way into Ohio. In the central U.S., there is an average of one derecho every one to two years. For 2020, there were a total of 9 derechos in the U.S., an all-time record.

Last year was also another disastrous one for wildfires, especially in California. It was another record year for blazes in the Golden State as more than 4 million acres were burned. This surpassed the old record of about 2 million acres that were destroyed in 2018. The largest was the August Complex Fire which was the largest in the state’s history as it burned more than one million acres. Colorado also had record-breaking wildfires with the Cameron Peak Fire and the Pine Gulch Fire.

It was also the hottest and one of the driest summer seasons in the Desert Southwest in 2020. Phoenix, Arizona had a record stretch of 144 days with high temperatures at or above 100 degrees. Over a dozen states in the western and central U.S. suffered through drought and record heat. Death Valley, California reported a temperature of 130 degrees on August 16, the highest global temperature measured in decades. Los Angeles county recorded a high of 121 degrees on September 6.

According to The Guardian, weather disasters in 2020 cost approximately 150 billion dollars across the world. The early portion of 2020 saw the worst fire season in Australia’s history as about one-third of the koala population was killed. There were also massive floods in China and India where the monsoon season brought record amounts of rainfall for the second year in-a-row. In August, one third of Bangladesh was underwater as the country experienced its worst flooding in history.