Global Hazards - December 2009

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.

Updated 4 January 2010

December 4th and 9thHeavy rains lead to severe flooding in Sao Paulo read more December 12ththrough 21stMajor Tropical Cyclone Laurence makes three landfalls in Australia read more December 14thTropical Cyclone Mick kills five in Fiji read more December 15thRecord setting rainfall leads to flooding across the Southern U.S. read more December 18th through 20thRecord breaking snow storm pummels the U.S. east coast read more December 18th through 21stCold weather and heavy snowfall paralyzes much of Europe and kills at least 90 people read more December 18thAnomalously heavy rainfall in Peru causses flooding and landslides, killing at least 90 people read more December 23rd through 27thHeavy rains in New South Wales, Australia causes flooding but alleviates drought read more December 25thDust storm covers Seoul, South Korea read more December 24th and 25thSevere storms across the U.S. Gulf Coast kills one. read more December 24th and 25thA massive blizzard dumps signigicant snow across the central U.S. read more

Drought conditions

For the month of December, the spatial extent of drought conditions remained generally unchanged across the contiguous United States and Hawaii, but grew for Alaska and Puerto Rico. Several large storm systems affected the eastern half of the country and eliminated drought in Florida and North Carolina. Conditions improved for southern Texas where a devastating drought was the most costly weather disaster in the U.S. this year, causing nearly $4 billion in crop losses. At the end of December, there was no exceptional or extreme drought for the state. Precipitation in the upper Midwest largely missed the drought stricken areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota, leaving the drought footprint there unchanged. Precipitation improved drought for southern California and Nevada, while dry conditions increased drought extent in Northern California and parts of Idaho. The remainder of the West remained unchanged over the course of December. Precipitation was light for interior parts of Alaska for the past several months leading to the development of abnormally dry conditions. Snowpack in the Koyukuk Basin is reported to be 50 percent of normal. The severe-to-extreme drought conditions across portions of Hawaii continued, prompting the USDA to declare parts of the islands a disaster area due to crop losses. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, on December 29th, 10.5 percent of the U.S. was experiencing drought conditions, 17.6 percent was abnormally dry, and 71.9 percent was drought free.

Seoul Dust Storm
Seoul Dust Storm

Source: AFP

A severe dust storm affected South Korea on December 25th. The country’s weather service issued warnings of ‘yellow dust’ in Seoul. The dust originated over China and Mongolia and was blown eastward to the western parts of South Korea. The Yonhap news agency reported that this was the first dust storm to ever affect South Korea on Christmas Day. The dust storms that affect the country usually occur in the spring. The dust originating from China often contains toxic smog from factories.

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Heavy rainfall and flooding

Two significant rainfall events on December 4th and 9th caused widespread flooding and induced mudslides in southern Brazil killing at least 26 people. Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, was the hardest hit. Traffic was paralyzed and the city’s airports were forced to close. The Climatempo weather service claims the second storm on the 9th caused the heaviest 24-hour period of rainfall for the city this year. On the night of December 8th, the city received half of its total average December precipitation of 7.5 inches (19 cm). Along the southern border with Uruguay and Argentina, in the Rio Grande do Sul state, rivers swelled to 10 meters (33 feet) above normal levels and 18,000 people were forced from their homes. A state of emergency was declared in over 130 towns and cities in the area.

Heavy rains soaked the already soggy Southern U.S. on December 15th. Flooding caused roads and schools to be closed in Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. New Orleans received more than 7 inches (18 cm) of rain in a 24-hour period. This storm, as well as previous rain events for the month, led New Orleans to have its wettest month on record with 25.92 inches (65.9 cm) of rain, beating the old record of 25.11 inches (63.8 cm) set in October 1937, when a slow moving tropical cyclone passed the area. The New Orleans's International Airport typically receives 5.07 inches (12.9 cm) of rain in December, and the previous December rainfall record was 10.77 inches (27 cm) in 1967.

Heavy rainfall on December 18th in the Peruvian Andes led to flooding and landslides in the city of Ayacucho. At least 9 people were killed due to a torrent of mud sweeping through the city (Source: UPI). Dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed. Meteorologists in the region reported that the seasonal rains have begun earlier than what is typical and have been more intense. They also said that the anomalous rainfall is driven by the El Niño conditions across the Pacific Ocean.

Heavy rainfall led to flooding in portions of New South Wales Australia on December 23rd through 27th. Some areas had upwards of 20 cm (7.9 inches) of rain. Heavy rain also fell in Sydney causing road closures. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported this is the heaviest widespread rainfall for inland New South Wales in over a decade. The low pressure system bringing the beneficial rain was associated with the remnants of tropical cyclone Laurence. The rain was a welcome site to many as this region has been dealing with a multi-year drought. Several ongoing wildfires were doused by the heavy rains.

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Severe Storms

Severe storms and heavy rainfall were associated with the same storm that brought blizzard conditions to the central parts of the U.S. on December 23rd and 24th. At least one death in Louisiana was blamed on the heavy rainfall and storms. There were 35 preliminary tornado reports and 34 hail and wind reports along the Gulf Coast over the 2-day period. The 10–year average number of tornadoes across the country in December is 36.

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Tropical Cyclones

Tropical Cyclone Mick made landfall on Fiji’s Viti Levu Island as a Category 2 storm on December 14th, marking the first tropical cyclone of the season for the South Pacific basin. The storm brought widespread wind damage and flooding, leaving at least five people dead (Source: RNZI). According to the Fiji Meteorological Service, an average of one tropical cyclone a year affects the island nation, with a damaging storm hitting the islands about once every 7 years.

Tropical Cyclone Laurence made three landfalls in Australia between December 12th and 21st. The first landfall brought heavy rain and strong winds to the Northern Territory. Darwin experienced a 93 km/hour (58 mph) wind gust and 40 cm (16 inches) of rainfall. Laurence caused Darwin to have its wettest December in 11 years. The storm moved off the coast and intensified to a category 5 storm on December 16th and made landfall along the Kimberly Coast late in the day on the 16th. The storm weakened over land, and re-emerged over the warm ocean waters on December 18th. The storm re-intensified to a category 5 storm with winds of 285 km/hour (177 mph) on December 21st, and made a third landfall in a sparsely populated region of Western Australia, near the towns of Pardoo and Sandfire. More than 30 cm (12 inches) of rain was reported along the coastal areas.

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Severe winter weather

A monster snow storm affected the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the U.S. on December 18th through December 20th. The storm originated in the Gulf of Mexico and moved northward along the Eastern Seaboard, leaving behind heavy snow accumulations from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Impacts from this storm included the closing of major airports, interstate highways, and rail systems. Over 1,200 flights were cancelled at the three major airports in the New York City area, and hundreds of thousands of people lost power due to the storm. Seven people were reported killed across the Mid-Atlantic (source: Reuters). Over two feet (61 cm) of snow accumulation was reported in portions of North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. At one point, the storm was over 500 miles (800 km) in width, and affected 14 states and tens of millions of Americans (Source: AFP). The National Weather Service reported this to be the heaviest snow event to ever affect Washington, D.C. during the month of December, with 16 inches (41 cm) of accumulation, and the 6th greatest snow storm in D.C. history. Philadelphia received 23.2 inches (59 cm) of accumulation, marking it second-highest snowfall ever for a single event. Philadelphia typically receives 19.3 inches (49 cm) of snowfall for the entire winter season.

A severe cold snap and a succession of snow storms affected most of Europe December 11th through 22nd. Heavy snow fell from Spain across the continent into portions of the Ukraine. According to the BBC, at least 90 people have died across Europe, including 79 people who froze to death in Poland as temperatures were reported as cold as -4 °F (-20 °C). Portions of southern Germany had temperatures of -27 °F (-33 °C). The snow forced airports to close in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Forty percent of the flights departing Paris’s Charles de Gaule airport were canceled. Germany's third largest airport - in Duesseldorf - was closed because of heavy snow on the 20th. Two of London’s three airports were also forced to close, while Heathrow Airport remained open. Up to 8 inches (20 cm) of snowfall was reported across southeast England.

A massive snow storm hit the middle part of the U.S. on December 24th and 25th, leaving behind several feet of snow from Texas to North Dakota. At least 24 deaths were attributed to the impacts of the heavy snowfall (Source: AFP). Several airports and interstate highways were forced to close. South Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma, and Minnesota declared states of emergency and required National Guard soldiers to dig out stranded motorists. Dallas, Texas experienced its first white Christmas since 1926. 13.9 inches (35 cm) of snow accumulated in Oklahoma City in 24 hours, breaking the previous record for snowfall in a 24–hour period and the record for greatest storm accumulation. Numerous other records were broken in the region; see the December snow report for further information. The large weather system was also responsible for strong storms in the southeastern United States.

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Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Hazards for December 2009, published online January 2010, retrieved on January 18, 2018 from