Ag Weather Forum

Nothing "Freakish" About Recent Storms

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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I am not a wordsmith. I have colleagues and acquaintances whose writing skills leave me in the dust. But I do know when I think words are being misused--and I saw one in a weather feature headline from Associated Press early this week, in the wake of the very storm weekend after Christmas.

Here is the headline from an Associated Press article that rattled my cage: "Freakish Weather Kills at Least 43 Across U.S."

It was the term "freakish" that caught my attention. Why? Because the term "freakish", as described by the Dr. Google dictionary, means "bizarre or grotesque; abnormal"--or "capricious or whimsical; unpredictable".

Such a term lit my fuse. I sent a note to DTN Ag News with the following comment: "Freakish my foot. Extreme--yes. But freakish? With the volatile atmosphere? Come on."

Now, I know how headlines work. The point is to get attention. But still, to say that last weekend's spate of severe storms, heavy rain, and heavy snow, was "abnormal" or "unpredictable" does not take into account the atmospheric conditions that we are in these days. Here's what I mean:

#1--As you all know by following DTN, we have the most intense El Nino Pacific Ocean warming event that has occurred since 1997. An El Nino of this magnitude brings a whole lot of extra mega-joules of energy to the atmosphere, and most of the time reaches its peak during the late December-early January time frame--which is of course, where we are right now. El Nino-infused storm systems many times exhibit a robust nature which is profound--but is not abnormal for El Nino. So that's point #1.

But there's a second point--and point #2 is a long-term overriding feature which continues to display its influence--and that is, the impact of global warming-related climate change in setting the atmosphere up for "turbo-charged" storm systems. Planet Earth is on track to have its warmest year in recorded history in 2015--and, with the oceans sharing in that warmth, the El Nino effect started with a higher threshold of ocean temperatures, which then adds even more energy to the atmosphere--and thus, the setting for stronger storms, fatalities and tremendous damage.

But, were these happenings "freakish"? Well, not when you take in the totality of what happened in 2015. Remember the outrageous snows in late winter from the Ohio Valley to the Northeast? Remember the monster rains in Texas (again) in May? Remember the heavy rains in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana during May and June--record setting? How about this one--ELEVEN rain gauges in the Oklahoma Mesonet have logged 80--EIGHTY--inches of rain in 2015. And now, the outrageous rain and snow in the Northwest earlier in December, followed by this late-December event in the central part of the country. And I haven't even touched on some monster events internationally.

"Freakish"? Not in the context of what the atmosphere has displayed over the past ten years or so. "Volatile"--absolutely. "Severe"--certainly. But, to use a term that conjures up the image of folks not knowing what's happening or why--no, there is plenty of knowledge as to what's happening.

And, as much as I try to stay away from clichés, there is one that applies to what we witnessed the weekend after Christmas: "new normal". We will likely see more.


Twitter @BAndersonDTN



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andrew mohlman
12/28/2015 | 3:27 PM CST
What about your recent headline rain in Brazil who was that for sure wasn't for farmers. What is the chance it won't rain enough ? Guess trade will have to wait and see if that happens. Gee thanks