2007 Weather Year in Review
2007 Central Alabama Headlines
The biggest weather story of the year was the historic drought that gripped Central Alabama. Several reporting stations throughout Central Alabama broke records for their respective driest years ever recorded. A drier than normal winter and spring set the stage for the continued drought. Drought conditions worsened by early spring and by late May and early June a D4 Exceptional Drought status existed across much of the area. An Exceptional Drought is defined by widespread crop and pasture losses with an exceptional fire risk and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells. The fire risk was realized, as the number of wildfires rose dramatically in 2007, with some of those sparked by lightning from dry summertime thunderstorms. This drought affected a majority of the southeastern United States, with the hardest hit areas including almost all of Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and the southern Appalachians. In some cases, lakes disappeared and reservoirs were at critically low levels, causing some communities to run out of water completely. For some major cities across the southeast, such as Atlanta, water emergencies were implemented for the possibility of running out of water.
Unfortunately, these conditions persisted throughout the remainder of the year with not much relief. Although some rainfall occurred during the year, there was not enough to cause substantial improvement to the abnormally dry conditions. Early december saw annual rainfall deficits of 20 to 30 inches across much of Central Alabama, or generally 35 to 75 percent of the expected yearly normal. During the height of the drought in mid to late August, approximately 87 percent of the state was designated as being in a D4 Exceptional Drought. This most severe drought designation assigned by the U.S. Drought Monitor. At this time, the United States Geological Survey reported that 48 percent of their long term stream gages were reporting record low flows and 85 percent of these gages had less than 10 percent of their normal flow for this time of year.
Needless to say, these D4 Exceptional Drought conditions played havoc with just about every segment of the population. Agricultural interests suffered greatly with below normal crop yields. Cattle and livestock also suffered as ponds and wells dried up and a shortage of hay occurred. Forests areawide also suffered greatly, as they became weakened and brittle due to loss of water. High wind events during severe weather tended to snap trees and limbs easier and cause more damage due to the long dry spell. On area lakes and reservoirs, water levels fell as drought conditions intensified. By fall, many major reservoirs in Central Alabama had already fallen below their normal winter pool levels. Boats and docks were literally left standing on dry land and many marinas were forced to close because they became inaccessible. Many major shipping routes were also affected, such as the Alabama River. Due to decreased flows from area lakes controlled by Alabama Power, this shipping route became almost impassible due to extremely low water levels.
According to Alabama Power, the arduous task of ensuring an equal distribution of water wherever necessary meant that several lakes would have to be drawn down considerably to augment for more extensively affected areas and keep shipping lanes passable. This on top of well below normal rainfall has led to many lake levels continuing to drop, well into the winter season. Lake Martin on the Tallapoosa River system has been one of the most affected this year, with summer pool levels that were 8.5 feet below normal and pool levels that are still currently 6.5 feet below normal as of December 17th. Only a major rainfall event of over 6 inches would return the lakes and reservoirs throughout the region to normal winter pool levels.
The public sector was also significantly affected by the drought. Many lawns and gardens dried up as water shortages developed. Some communities were threatened with losing their local water supplies. At the peak of the drought, over 50 percent of the state`s population was under either voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. Even as the year was drawing to a close, almost half of the population remained under some form of water conservation measures.
Overall, many reporting stations throughout the Central Alabama broke a record for the driest year on record. In Birmingham, the total rainfall of 28.86 inches broke the record of 36.14 inches in 1931. Montgomery had the third driest year on record, with 36.75 inches of rainfall. The driest year remains 1954 when 26.82 inches of rain fell.
2007 will go down in the history books as one of the warmest years in Central Alabama since records began. Temperatures remained above normal throughout the year, with the yearly average temperatures at all reporting stations at least one degree above normal. Average temperatures in Tuscaloosa were 1.3 degrees above normal, 1.9 degrees above normal in Anniston, 1.8 degrees in Montgomery, and 2.9 degrees above normal in Birmingham. Birmingham also tied the record for the 2nd warmest year, at 65.3 degrees. The warmest year in Birmingham occurred way back in 1933 with an average temperature of 65.5 degrees. Montgomery tied for the 2nd warmest, with an average temperature of 66.9 degrees. The warmest on record for Montgomery is 67 degrees set in 1990.
A dreadful carryover from 2006, drought conditions worsened throughout the spring season in 2007, resulting in very dry soil conditions. The lack of moisture due to the continued drought resulted in significantly lower dewpoints than usual for a majority of the summer and led to the rapid rise of the air temperature across Central Alabama during the summer months. A persistent wave of above average temperatures continued from May to October across the entire region, causing many problems such as decreased air quality, heat-related illnesses, and wildfires.
The most extreme heat affected Central Alabama during the month of August, when all of the reporting stations recorded at least 10 consecutive days of 100+ degree temperatures. Several all time highs for the month were also set in several locations. This same heat wave was responsible for baking the entire southeast United States, with a majority of the most consecutive days of 100 degree heat or better residing throughout Arkansas, northern Mississippi and eastern Tennessee, a majority of Alabama (excluding the gulf coast), central Georgia, and the Carolinas.
During the month of July, a strong upper level ridge produced record heat across the western United States and was poised to move eastward. The upper ridge redeveloped over the southeast and produced the record heat that was experienced here. This oppressive heat was greatest during the weeks of August 12th and August 19th, when heat advisories were in effect for the entire area. Record high temperatures were set or tied at several locations from August 4th through August 24th across Central Alabama. Some of these high temperatures actually tied or broke the all time high temperatures for August or for any month of the year.
The Cooperative Observer at Pinson reported 18 consecutive days of record high temperatures, which was the most consecutive days reported throughout Central Alabama. Temperatures ranged from 98 to 107 degrees. Tuscaloosa reported 10 consecutive record days with temperatures ranging from 100 to 107. Montgomery reported 11 consecutive record days with a temperature range from 100 to 106, Anniston reported 9 consecutive record days, and Birmingham rounded out the reporting stations with 8 consecutive days of record high temperatures.
Every reporting station throughout Central Alabama observed its hottest average August high temperature ever recorded. Birmingham averaged a high of 98.4, Montgomery averaged 99.2, Tuscaloosa averaged 99.5, and Anniston averaged 98.2 degrees. Birmingham also broke a record for the warmest average low temperatures ever recorded in the month of August with 75.4 degrees.
Although temperatures dropped at a majority of reporting stations to below record criteria in September and October, significant heat was still felt with temperatures rising well into the 90s for a majority of these months.
Unfortunately, heat related illnesses and deaths also occurred with the heat wave. A total of 51 deaths throughout the southeast were blamed due to extreme heat through August 27th, according to the National Climatic Data Center, with the most deaths occurring in west Tennessee and the Memphis Metropolitan area. Alabama was not immune to heat related deaths. According to the Alabama Department of Health, during the worst extent of the heat wave in August and September, a total of 15 heat related deaths had occurred statewide, with 10 of those deaths occurring within Central Alabama. Due to the prolonged nature of these above-average temperatures, many heat related illnesses did not surface until the last week of August and into September.
Other than the extreme heat that was felt during the summer months, Central Alabama averaged at least two degrees warmer than normal for the entire year. The coldest temperatures of the year occurred on January 29th and 30th and also February 17th and 18th, where temperatures fell into the upper teens and lower 20s.
Cold temperatures were also felt much later than usual in the spring, as Central Alabama was affected by freezing temperatures from the 5th through the 10th of April. At the start of April, temperatures were warm, with high temperatures mainly in the 80s. Many trees and shrubs were in bloom due to the warm temperatures. Conditions changed abruptly, however, as cold polar high pressure settled across much of the eastern half of the nation. Low temperatures dropped well below freezing areawide and freeze warnings were issued several days in a row. Many counties across Central Alabama reported partial or complete losses of fruit crops due to the hard freeze.
February and July were actually two of the few months in 2007 that offered average to below average temperatures. A large trough across the eastern half of the United States dominated the weather and brought reinforcing shots of polar air into the region throughout the month of February. Although no record lows were reported, below average temperatures were the norm until temperatures finally rebounded at the end of the month. During july, a semi-permanent upper-level pattern that featured a ridge over the southwest and a trough generally along and east of the mississippi river allowed for a few weak surface fronts to penetrate into the deep south. A cold front actually pushed all the way to the Gulf of Mexico on July 22nd, producing low temperatures in the mid 50s and lower 60s. These temperatures were on the order of 10 degrees below normal.
The first freeze of the 2007 autumn season occurred on the morning of November 8th, as every reporting station recorded a low temperature from the mid 20s to near 30.
Statistically, Central Alabama reported near normal occurrences of hazardous weather in 2007, except for flash flooding. Much of the flash flooding potential was curtailed for the entire year due to the prolonged drought conditions which included a general lack of rainfall, dry ground conditions and lower than normal creek, stream, lake and river levels. Therefore, most localized heavy rainfall was able to be absorbed by the ground and area streams before running off too quickly and causing flooding.
Due to Central Alabama's close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and its moisture, severe weather may occur any month of the year and at any time of the day. The first severe weather episodes were reported the very first week of the year on January 5th and January 7th. On the 5th, a line of showers and thunderstorms developed and moved into western Alabama before sunrise. Thunderstorm wind damage occurred in several counties through 7 AM CST, generally from Lamar County to Cherokee County. Many trees were blown down as the maximum wind gusts were estimated between 50 and 70 mph.
Four tornadoes developed on February 13th along with several instances of large hail. A few supercell thunderstorms developed during the afternoon hours. An EF1 touched down between Duncanville and Eoline. Several trailers, homes, barns and sheds were damaged along the path. The same supercell produced an EF0 tornado near the Six Mile Community which mainly damaged trees. An EF0
The largest outbreak of the year occurred at the beginning of Spring Severe Weather Season. On March 1st, 9 tornadoes touched down across Central Alabama. A warm front moved northward from the Gulf of Mexico during the early morning hours spreading a warm and moist airmass across the region. Temperatures climbed into the 65 to 75 degree range by around noon. Supercell thunderstorms began developing soon thereafter and affected a large part of Central Alabama. Tornado damage was reported in Fayette, Winston, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, Shelby, Russell, Lee, Barbour, Lowndes, Montgomery and Dallas Counties. At least 6 people suffered injuries from these tornadoes in Central Alabama. There were 5 EF1's, 3 EF2's and 1 EF4. The EF4 tornado occurred in Wilcox and Dallas Counties and the majority of the significant damage and subsequent rating was based on the damage in Wilcox County. This tornado outbreak produced 57 tornadoes in at least 8 different states from February 28th to March 2nd. Twenty people lost their lives during this outbreak. This was the same event that produced the devastating EF4 tornado in Enterprise Alabama.
The Spring Severe Weather Season produced another outbreak on April 11th. Several supercell thunderstorms formed and were prolific hail producers. These storms also were responsible for 5 tornadoes. Large hail fell in many communities from Marion County to Russell County. The hail sizes ranged from golf ball to grapefruit size and covered the ground up to several inches in spots. Many homes and automobiles sustained damage. The grapefruit size hail was reported in Russell County between Fort Mitchell and Holy Trinity. Many photos were received of the large hail. Five rather weak tornadoes also occurred with this event. Four EF1's and one EF0 affected Central Alabama and tornado damage was reported in Elmore, Bibb, Chilton, Macon, Russell, Tallapoosa and Jefferson Counties. This event was followed rather quickly by another severe weather event on April 14th, but much of this event was confined to the gulf coast. A tornado did touch down in Bullock County near the Jamback Community where trees were snapped off and at least one structure was destroyed.
June, July and August were rather typical summer months across Central Alabama. Scattered strong to severe thunderstorms developed many afternoons during the peak heating. Large hail or damaging winds were reported on 28 different days during these months.
The Fall Severe Weather Season got started a bit early in 2007 as two severe weather events took place in October. An EF0 tornado and wind damage both occurred near Haleyville on October 18th as a storm system approached Central Alabama. This particular system was responsible for at least 52 tornadoes nationwide from October 17th through 19th, making this the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded during the month of October. October typically has been one of the driest months of the year. A majority of the severe weather expected in October comes from tropical systems. The last time a tornado occurred in October was back in 2001. If that was not unusual enough, three more tornadoes and a few damaging wind episodes occurred on October 22nd and 23rd. An EF1 tornado affected areas near Newbern, another EF1 touched down southwest of Brent and one more EF1 dropped down near Lowndesboro.
The actual Fall Severe Weather Season was very quiet in 2007. A large number of significant severe weather events occurred in November or December each year since 2000, but no tornadoes were recorded in either month this year. The last time no tornadoes were confirmed in November was back in 1999. Furthermore, only a hand full of large hail and damaging wind events were reported through the entire fall season.
A fairly unusual even took place on the afternoon of December 20th, a gravity wave. Gravity waves occur when pressure differences, typically behind a region of precipitation, cause air to sink rapidly. This sinking of the air produced a pressure rise and fall couplet that led to damaging surface winds. Winds were estimated between 35 and 55 mph generally along and north of Interstate 20. Many trees and large limbs were blown down and power outages accompanied this damage. Another oddity of the sinking air was that the lower clouds eroded behind the precipitation area. Many locations were then treated to an extremely vivid orange sunset.
The National Weather Service advertised the dangers of lightning during Lightning Awareness Week, but no particular location is immune to a lightning strike. The National Weather Service Office took a direct lightning strike on September 2nd. Luckily, no one was injured but several computer and electrical systems were significantly damaged.
The National Weather Service implemented the Enhanced Fujita Scale on February 1, 2007. This new EF Scale replaced the original Fujita Scale that was utilized in rating tornado damage. The EF Scale continued to rate tornadoes on a 0 to 5 scale, but ranges in wind speeds will be more accurate with the improved rating scale.
Storm Based Warning methodology went into effect on October 1, 2007. The National Weather Service previously issued warnings based on geopolitical boundaries. Realizing the continuing need to improve the specificity and accuracy of the warning program, Storm Based Warnigns are not restricted to these geopolitical boundaries, ut show the specific threat area. By focusing on the specific threat area, these polygon warnings will improve the National Weather Service's warning accurracy and quality.
CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network started November 1, 2007.
The NOAA 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season official forecast was for a 75% chance of above-normal tropical development, calling for 13 to 17 named storms, with 7 to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which 3 could become major. Well, the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season has wrapped up and Central Alabama luckily was not impacted very much by the tropical weather. The 2007 season produced 14 named tropical systems, 6 of these storms became hurricanes and 2 gained major hurricane status. In addition, two other tropical depressions developed during the year but were not strong enough to be named. Therefore, the number of named storms was above average but the number of hurricanes was slightly below. Of note, this was the first year since records began in 1851 that 2 category 5 hurricanes, Dean & Felix, made landfall in the same year. Central Alabama received only minor affects from these tropical systems. The remnants of Humberto brought some much needed rain to Central Alabama on September 13th & 14th. Rain amounts were generally one to two inches. Tropical Depression Ten moved across far southeastern Alabama on September 21st. A brief tornado touched down in Barbour County with little to no damage observed.
Winter Weather has almost been virtually non-existent over the past several years and the docile trend continued into 2007. A light mixture of rain, sleet and snow was observed late on January 31st and early on February 1st. Any light accumulations on elevated and exposed surfaces quickly melted after sunrise. The winter mix was confined to the northern half of Central Alabama and essentially affected no road surfaces.
A High Fire Danger was present at many locations on numerous days throughout the year. The High Fire Danger was due to the Exceptional Drought conditions experienced across Central Alabama. For the state of Alabama, 3,368 wildland fires occurred through the end of November with just over 64,000 acres burned. The number of wildland fires and the acreage affected surely would have been much larger if not for the prescribed burns carried out by other National, State or Local Agencies. These prescribed burns prevent the number of overall wildland fires and limits the potential explosive growth that would otherwise by present. For the state, 791,533 acres were burned as prescribed fires through November.
The National Weather Service issued numerous Red Flag Warnings throughout the year and the Alabama Forestry Commission put much of Alabama in either a Fire Alert or a Drought Emergency for long periods at a time.
Significant wildland fires developed across southern Georgia and northern Florida in mid April and continued burning through the end of May. The air flow across the Southeastern United States pushed smoke plume into Central Alabama in the middle of May. Hazy and smoky conditions lasted for several days and produced reduced visibilities and the smell of smoke.