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Southeast Regional Climate Center

SC Dept of Natural Resources, Columbia, SC
Dr. Michael R. Helfert
Milton Brown
Amanda E. Clarke
December 15, 1998


Summary of Major Climate Events During 1998, Southeastern United States


January

North Carolina

A downburst from a severe thunderstorm produced 90 mph gusts at Wilmington in New Hanover County on the morning of the eighth injuring 3 people, damaging a service station, and overturning a parked 18 wheeler. The path of the damage was 30 yards wide and a quarter mile long. At Burgaw in Pender County, 20 pines trees were snapped-off six to ten feet above the ground by the wind..

The winter storm on the 27th and 28th produced heavy snow in the north Carolina mountains stranding motorists on Interstate 40 from the Tennessee border eastward beyond Asheville and on Interstate 26 to near the South Carolina border. In 12 mountain counties snowfall was in excess of eight inches and six counties reported more than two feet of snow. The maximum snowfall was 40 inches at Beech Mountain in Avery County. The heavy snow caused power outages to more than 70,000 customers in western North Carolina.


South Carolina

On the 7th , a tornado touched down along Highway 135 three miles southwest of Easley in Pickens County damaging or destroying 90 homes, injuring 4 people, and downing numerous trees and power lines. Damage was estimated to be at least 3 million dollars.


Virginia

The winter storm on the 27th produced heavy snow over southwest Virginia. The snowfall average one to two feet with isolated snowfall accumulations to two and a half feet. The heavy snowfall stranded motorists and left 100,000 customers without electrical power. Approximately 31,000 customers were still without power on the 30th. The Red Cross opened shelters to assist stranded motorists and residents who had lost electrical power. The National Guard and some Virginia State Forestry employees were participated in the rescue of stranded motorists.


February

Florida

The month of February was filled with violent weather beginning on Groundhog Day in southern Florida. Flooding was reported early on the second in the Boynton Beach-Palm Beach areas where the Palm Beach International Airport reported 8.17 inches of rain in less than 12 hours.

A tornado damaged three structures, one severely, at Emporia in Volusia County. A tornado destroyed a large metal structure of the Florida Mining and Materials Building near the Hernando County Airport and did several hundred thousand dollars of damage to plants at a nursery nearby. Tornadoes also did damage to buildings, trees and power lines in Sumter and Polk counties.

Late on the 22nd and early on the 23rd, the most disastrous tornadic storms struck Florida since Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992 killing at least 39 people in central Florida. These tornadoes also caused property damage estimated in excess of $100 million.

A tornado killed 11 people and destroyed numerous structures from Altamonte Springs to Sanford in Seminole County. At Kissimmee in Osceola County a tornado destroyed numerous buildings, a mobile home park, and a recreation vehicle campground killing at least 14 people and possible more than 22. Fourteen tornadoes are believed to have touched down in the State of Florida on February 22.


March

Florida

A tornado damaged at least 12 classrooms at an elementary school in Sarasota.

Severe weather continue into the 9th with possible tornadoes reported west of Kissimmee in Osceola County, Naples in Collier County. At Naples, three people were injured and there was major damage to 32 dwellings.


Georgia

Around 6:30 a.m. on the 20th, a tornado touched down two miles south of Murrayville in Hall County damaging two schools, numerous homes and buildings, trees, and vehicles along an 11.5 mile path through Gainesville and into White County. Twelve people were killed in Hall County and one in White County. An additional eighty people were injured. Property damage was estimated in the millions. High winds blew shingles off roofs at Wiley and damaged several large trees at Pine Mountain in Rabun County.


North Carolina

On the 20th, a destructive tornado ripped through the small town of Stoneville in Rockingham County killing two people and doing considerable damage to building and dwellings.


South Carolina

On the 8th, a tornado in Bamberg County and two others in Orangeburg County caused an estimated $2 million of damage to the Holly Hill Training Center at Vance, a church and 14 homes.


Virginia

On the 20th in Henry County, a tornado destroyed one mobile home and damaged 12 other mobile homes, six houses, two churches, and 12 additional structures.


May

South Carolina

The tornado in Edgefield county killed one person, injured 7, and destroyed 72 buildings, causing an estimated $1.8 million damage.

A tornado occurred in Dorchester and Berkeley counties destroying 19 or more homes, damaging 190 or more buildings, killing one person and injuring at least 10; funnel clouds were observed in Clarendon and Sumter counties.


June

Florida

Lightning injured six firefighters in Pinellas County, and two other people were injured by different lightning strikes in Pinellas County;


August

North Carolina

On the 26th, Hurricane Bonnie brought severe weather to the Carolinas. A peak wind of 104 MPH was recorded off the coast at Frying Pan Shoals Light; a peak wind of 74 MPH was recorded at Wilmington in New Hanover County. Preliminary estimates indicate that total damages due to Bonnie will be near one billion dollars in North Carolina. Insured claims damages were 240 million dollars.


South Carolina

On the 26th, Hurricane Bonnie brought strong winds to South Carolina. 77 MPH winds were recorded at Myrtle Beach in Horry County, 54 MPH winds were recorded in Georgetown County, and 46 MPH winds were recorded in Florence County. Insured claim damages due to Bonnie were 25 million dollars in South Carolina.


Virginia

Some crops in isolated areas of extreme southeastern Virginia were severe damage by Hurricane Bonnie. Insured claim damage totaled 95 million dollars.


September

Alabama

Note: There are some preliminary reports concerning Hurricane Georges. Gusts to 85 mph reported. 25-foot waves on immediate coast. 177,000 customers without power. 4675 in shelters. No deaths or major injuries. In Alabama, approximately 142,000 customers remain without power and the Mobile Airport and Mobile Downtown Airport are closed.


Florida

On the 30th, tornadoes caused extensive damage and injured six people in Suwannee County.

Note: Some preliminary reports concerning Hurricane Georges are: 18-25 inches of precip in Panhandle -- needs verification. Keys: precip less; totals pending. Mandatory evacuations total abt 225,000. Severe flooding brought by 25-30 inches of rain, initial 110 mph winds, and isolated tornadoes have caused extensive damage. More than 678,000 are still without power along the coast. Approximately 200 residents in the Florida panhandle were rescued by the Coast Guard Sunday night. A portion of Interstate 10 near the Alabama border was destroyed or washed over. One death reported statewide. On the Florida Keys, 90 mph winds were reported for >10 hours during storm passage; heavy structural damage from the storm, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. More than 900 homes suffered minor damage, 500 major damage, and more than 150 homes were completely destroyed, including 75 houseboats on so-called "Houseboat Row." Key West airport remains closed; and though Key West has sporadic power, at least 10,000 residents are without power. The islands' water system is intact, but residents are still under a "boil water" order. Utility restoration is expected to take 7-10 days. Big Pine Key and Cudjoe Key took the most severe hits, including severe storm surge damage. Since the top elevation in the Keys is 14 feet, high water quickly swept into homes and businesses. Schools and most businesses remain closed. The Key West Airport remains closed except for relief flights. Pensacola Airport is also closed.


South Carolina

On the 3rd, during the passage of Tropical Storm Earl, heavy rains totaling 5 to 7 inches fell across much of South Carolina causing numerous flash floods reports. Heavy winds caused damage in Aiken, Berkeley, Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton, Charleston, Hampton, Dorchester, Lee, Orangeburg, and Richland counties. In Berkeley County, a tornado destroyed 7 and damaged 73 homes, injuring 9 people. In Beaufort County a tornado killed one person, injured 12 people, and caused extensive damage on St Helena Island, Port Royal, and Ladies Island. Twenty six homes were destroyed or damaged.

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Preliminary results indicate the average temperature statewide for this fall (September - November) was 66 degrees, making it the third warmest fall since record keeping began in 1895.


December

Record Temperatures

The month of December started off warm across the Southeast. From December 1-8, daily high temperature records were set at four cities in Alabama, two in Florida, five in Georgia, five in North Carolina, eight in South Carolina, and three in Virginia. The all time record high temperature for the month of December was tied or set for one city in Alabama, three cities in North Carolina, one city in South Carolina, and two cities in Virginia. Two cities in Alabama and two cities in North Carolina also reported record high low temperatures during this period.

Alabama

No severe weather was reported in December.

Agricultural: NASS monthly reports have been discontinued until Spring.

Florida

No severe weather was reported in December.

Agricultural: Lack of rainfall caused topsoil moisture ratings to deteriorate from 37 to 74 percent short to very short during the month. Pasture conditions also worsened, but irrigated vegetable crops and citrus were mostly in good condition during the entire month.

Georgia

No severe weather was reported in December.

Agricultural: NASS monthly reports have been discontinued until Spring.

North Carolina

On the 24th, freezing rain was a major problem for travelers from the southern Mountains to the Northeast area of North Carolina. The icing also cause power outages to at least 200, 000 customers during the peak of the winter storm.

Agricultural: Topsoil moisture ratings in mid-December were 70 percent sort or very short. The consistent rainfall deficit continued to cause stress for all small grains. Deteriorating pasture conditions will likely result in earlier than normal use of hay and roughage supplies for feeding of livestock.

South Carolina

No severe weather was reported in December.

Agricultural: NASS monthly reports have been discontinued until Spring.

Virginia

On the 24th, freezing rain accumulated on roads, power lines, and trees in south-central and eastern Virginia bringing travel to a halt and causing massive power outages. At the peak, there were approximately 480,000 customers without power according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Services. Removal of tree limbs from roads and streets was a major undertaking. Virginia Power augmented 1,300 of their linemen with 1,200 personnel from out of state to replace downed power lines. Power to more than 430,000 customers had been restored by the 29th. Shelters were opened in at least seven jurisdictions including Chesterfield, James City County, Lunenburg, Middlesex, Prince George, Surry, and York.

Agricultural: The unseasonably mild weather in early December was a mixed blessing for livestock producers allowing the grazing of herds on available pastures longer than normal. However, the prolonged dry period caused many producers to engage in heavy culling of their herds in spite of low beef prices.


Forest Fires in Georgia and Florida

The La Nina-stimulated forest fires that began in Florida in early December (normal season is Feb-Mar) have now spread into Georgia. They are sufficiently large as to show up on AVHRR satellite images:

IMAGE D35002: NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT
Channels 3,2,1 @ 1 km res
12/16/98 19:26 UTC
Multichannel color composite
SE United States

Hot spots and smoke plumes from areas of fire burning in Florida and southern Georgia.
IMAGE D35003: NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT
Channels 3,2,1 @ 1 km res
12/16/98 19:26 UTC
Multichannel color composite
SE United States

The same image as above but without coastline overlay.


Special Summaries

Drought/Heat Wave

-Drought and extreme heat affected an expanding area of the south this summer, from Texas eastward to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

-Agricultural losses (crops, cattle, etc.) estimates $175 million for Florida and $400 million for Georgia, while other states are still counting the damages.


Florida Fires

-Fires began burning out of control in Florida on Memorial Day weekend, and scorched over 485,000 acres during May-July, with more than half being commercial timberland.

-Most of the fires were in an area bounded by Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and Orlando.

-The timber losses amounted to approximately $300 million, and at least 324 homes were damaged or destroyed.

-Firefighting cost were over $100 million.

-Over 120,000 residents were forced to evacuate for a day or more, including all of Flagler County.

-During July and August, the normal summer rains arrived with afternoon thunderstorms, ending the fire threat.

On July 8, 1998, losses in Florida due to forest fires in May and June was estimate at $340 million. In December 1998, the estimate had been increased to $400 million according to Jim Brenner of the Florida Division of Forestry. Mr. Brenner said most of the wildfires in May and June were in northern and eastern Florida to the east of a line from Melbourne to Orlando to Gainesville and along Interstate-75 to the Georgia border.

There were a few wildfires outside the main area described in the outline above. These included fires near Perry and Panama City.

Pine seedlings losses due to the drought in May and June totaled $103 million. The seedlings were located in areas generally west of the main wildfires.

Agricultural losses in May and June were estimated between $250-300 million, and rough preliminary estimate by the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (FDACS) for 1998 would be around $500 million. Losses to the citrus industry was estimated at 22 percent for Oranges and 10-20 percent for grapefruit.

FDACS Public Information spokesman, Bob Blankenship, said the losses in 1998 are large, but he said a freeze to the citrus crop at a critical stage could easily exceed the entire losses of this year. He quoted John A. Attaway in his book, A History of Florida Citrus Freezes, Florida Science Source, Inc., 1997, that losses to citrus crops in Florida during the decade of the 1980s totaled $7 billion.


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