Global Hazards - December 2001

Please note: Material provided in this report is chosen subjectively and included at the discretion of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The ability to report on a given event is limited by the amount of information available to NCEI at the time of publication. Inclusion of a particular event does not constitute a greater importance in comparison with an event that has not been incorporated into the discussion. Data included in this report are preliminary unless otherwise stated. Links to supporting information are valid at the time of publication, but they are not maintained or changed after publication.

Top of Page Special Highlight

A major winter storm crossed central and eastern Europe at the end of the month, bringing cold temperatures and heavy snows, which affected many New Year’s Eve festivities. December was abnormally cold and snowy across much of Europe, from Spain and France eastward into extreme western Russia.

This is a break in the document

Top of Page Asia (Click for map)

An upper level trough of low pressure that was dominant across Europe during December promoted a cold and stormy period across extreme western Russia southward into Turkey. A strong storm system that affected Turkey during the 8th-9th produced heavy rains and snows that affected thousands of people. Hazardous seas were responsible for the sinking of two ships in the Black Sea that claimed 4 lives (BBC News). A second storm brought additional snowfall and coastal flooding during the 14th-17th, with heavy accumulations of snow isolating thousands in the interior of the country. Very cold weather in Lithuania during December resulted in at least 20 deaths (CNN) as temperatures across the region were more than 4°C (7.2°F) below average. An intrusion of Siberian air brought very cold weather to extreme northern India during the second week of December, with hypothermia blamed for at least 15 deaths (Xinhua).

Click here for the Asian snow cover maplarger image

Farther east, rainfall eased persistent drought in Iran, where Tehran's water authority lifted the rationing of drinking water in the capital. Drought conditions in Iran have cost the country $2.5 billion (USD) in 2001, according to official estimates (CIP report). Severe drought has affected much of southwest Asia for the last 3 years. Across the Russian Far East, a winter storm disrupted air and sea travel and damaged power transmission lines across the Kamchatka peninsula around mid-month.

Click here for the central Asian temperatures larger image

Temperatures across western Russia and much of Mongolia averaged 3-4°C (5.4-7.2°F) cooler than average, while areas of the Middle East were 2-4°C (3.6-7.2°F) warmer than the mean.

Top of Page Europe (Click for map)

Frequent storms and cold weather dominated the interior of Europe during the month of December, with heavy snowfall common from Spain and France eastward into Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. The Europe-Asia snow cover loop depicts the unusually vast snow cover that developed across much of Europe by the end of the month

Click here for the European snow cover map
larger image
Click here for the European Temperature map larger image Over western Europe, much drier conditions prevailed, with England and Wales experiencing the sunniest December on record and the driest since 1991 according to the UK Met Office. Temperatures from the United Kingdom northward through much of Scandinavia were near to or below the 1992-2001 mean.

Top of Page Australia & South Pacific (Click for map)

Click Here for the Australian blended temperature for December larger image An upper level trough of low pressure promoted cooler than average temperatures across much of central and western Australia. Temperatures were 2-4°C (3.6-7.2°F) below average across parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia. Average maximum temperatures during December across Western Australia and South Australia were the coolest since at least 1950. Warmer than average weather was restricted to much of Queensland, where temperatures were 1-3°C (1.8-5.4°F) above the mean. Wildfires, which were ignited late in the month around Sydney, destroyed more than 170 homes and were aided by strong winds and temperatures exceeding 35°C (95°F).

The local highest December precipitation on record was broken in a large area near the tri-state border region of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. Another area with record December rainfall was in Western Australia north of Albany when a low pressure system moved southward and interacted with the westerlies. In addition to heavy rains, damage was reported to both crops and property from thunderstorms and hail. For more information on Australian weather and climate, see the Australian Bureau of Meteorology web site.

CPC/CAMS precipitation estimates from IRICAMS precipitation estimates
Click Here for a satellite image of tropical cyclone Waka larger image Tropical cyclone Waka formed between Samoa and Fiji on December 30, and passed through the Tonga Islands. Maximum sustained winds were over 45 m/s (~90 knots or 105 mph), with considerable damage to crops and houses reported by the Associated Press.

Across Indonesia, showers and thunderstorms brought locally heavy rainfall to parts of the region, with flooding reported in the town of Sentani in the Papua province on the 17th. Floods also swept across the town of Wamena, resulting in significant agricultural losses. Heavy rains were responsible for a landslide in West Sumatra that killed five people in the village of Biduak Larah Barangin (UN OCHA).

Top of Page Africa (Click for map)

Persistent drought in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and particularly Somalia continued to cause acute food shortages and the migration of thousands of people in search of water and food. Generally light rains fell in Somalia during December, and the World Food Program warned that more than 500,000 people could die of starvation in the southern part of the country due to a combination of drought and economic turmoil. Across Zambia, drought is affecting the country’s agricultural recovery after floods earlier in the year destroyed many crops.

CPC/CAMS precipitation estimates from IRI CAMS precipitation estimates

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that an estimated 13,000 people were affected by heavy rains and flooding in Mbandaka, located in the northwestern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many houses were destroyed and entire villages were evacuated, forcing many people to live in the open. A tropical disturbance brought excessive rains to Madagascar late in the month, with nearly 300 mm (11.8 inches) falling during the last 5 days of December.

Click Here for the blended temperatures for Africa larger image Much of the northern half of the continent experienced temperatures that were 1-3°C (1.8-5.4°F) above average, with relatively cooler temperatures restricted to parts of South Africa, Botswana and eastward into southern Mozambique.

Top of Page North America (Click for map)

Click here for the North American blended temperature map larger image Relatively mild conditions prevailed across most of Canada and the eastern two-thirds of the United States during December as a large anomalous ridge of high pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere contributed to the warmth. Temperatures were 1-3°C (1.8-5.4°F) above the 1992-2001 mean. In sharp contrast, an unusually deep Aleutian Low encouraged colder than average temperatures across Alaska, where temperatures were 2-4°C (3.6-7.2°F) cooler than the mean.
Click here for an radar image of lake effect snows affecting Buffalo, NY larger image While predominantly dry weather worsened drought conditions in the eastern U.S., a cold Canadian airmass generated significant snows for parts of the Great Lakes. Buffalo, New York received more than 80 inches (203 cm) of snowfall during the period December 24- January 1. At the height of the storm, snowfall rates of 4 inches per hour (10 cm/hour) were reported in the greater Buffalo area.

Drought conditions in the northeast U.S. extended across the Canadian border into neighboring Nova Scotia, where agriculture has been severely impacted. Farther to the west, a severe drought in the Canadian prairies continues to affect the wheat harvest, with negative impacts on agri-business expected through 2002.

Top of Page South America (Click for map)

Click here for an infrared satellite loop Infrared satellite loop from GOES-8 depicting periods of showers and thunderstorms over eastern Brazil
Time period is December 20 to December 22
Several days of heavy rains in the Rio de Janeiro state of eastern Brazil resulted in significant flooding and mudslides during latter half of December. Brazil’s Civil Defense reported at least 71 deaths, nearly 2,000 people homeless and at least 400 homes destroyed or partially damaged. Much of the storm damage was concentrated around the city of Petropolis and the flooded Maracana River.

Farther north in Colombia, heavy rains during December resulted in widespread river flooding which affected the states of Tolima, Cundinamarca and Antioquia and displaced around 4,500 people from their homes.

Warmer than average temperatures in southern parts of Argentina and Chile were closely related to a prominent upper level ridge of high pressure. December temperatures were 1-2°C (1.8-3.6°F) above the 1992-2001 mean in these areas. Click here for the South American blended temperature map larger image

Top of Page References:

Basist, A., N.C. Grody, T.C. Peterson and C.N. Williams, 1998: Using the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager to Monitor Land Surface Temperatures, Wetness, and Snow Cover. Journal of Applied Meteorology, 37, 888-911.

Peterson, Thomas C. and Russell S. Vose, 1997: An overview of the Global Historical Climatology Network temperature data base. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78, 2837-2849.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Hazards for December 2001, published online January 2002, retrieved on January 21, 2018 from