Sunday, August 11, 2019

Most Extreme Weather on Record

Zoë Sharp

As climate change starts to move up a gear, so we begin to experience greater extremes of weather. Even in the normally temperate UK, last month’s heatwave has given way to torrential rain, high winds, and flooding. (Yeah, welcome to August.)

I’ve been interested in extreme weather for many years. In fact, one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is go tornado chasing. Just as long as I didn’t have to get too close.

But, with this in mind, I wondered what were the most extreme instances of extreme weather that had ever been recorded. And if you’ve wondered about that, too, read on…

When it comes to the worst recorded rain, it rather depends on how you choose to measure it. The most rain in one minute, for instance, was 31.2mm/1.23in in July 1956 in Unionville, Maryland. Holt, Missouri had the most in an hour—305mm/12in in June 1947.

When it comes to really being hit by rain, however, you need to go to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean during cyclone season. During Tropical Cyclone Denise in January 1966, Cilaos on Réunion recorded 1825mm/71.9in of rain in 24 hours. In January 1980, Cyclone Hyacinthe brought Commerson the most rain in a single tropical storm—a whopping 6433mm/253.3in. And Cyclone Gamede hit the same place again in 2007, this time dumping a record 4869mm/191.7mm of rain in four days.

Réunion in the Indian Ocean
Just in case you were wondering, the least rainy place on record is Quillagua in Chile, which receives less than 0.2mm/0.0079in per year.

The most snow within a twenty-four-hour period was in Capracotta, Italy in March 2015, when 2.56m/100.8in fell. The most in a calendar month was 9.91m/390in in Tamarack, California in January 1911.

The widest area ever covered by a single snowfall was when between 1-76mm/0-30in fell across nine countries in South Africa in August 2012. The deepest snowfall recorded was on Mt Ibuki in Japan in February 1927 when 11.82m/38.8ft was recorded.

The deadliest tornado was in Manikganj District in Bangladesh in April 1989, when approximately 1300 people lost their lives as a storm a mile wide hit the region. The longest known tornado track was the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which cut a path through Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois that was 219 miles long, destroying 15,000 homes in the process and killing almost 700 people.

Tropical Cyclone Tip
The most severe outbreak of tornados was in 2011, when there were 207 confirmed during a 24-hour period, affecting six US states. Four were rated EF5, with winds over 200mph. The most intense tropical cyclone was Tip (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Warling) in 1979, which had sustained wind speeds of 190mph/305kph and a record low sea-level pressure of 870mbar. At its peak, Tip measured 1380 miles/2220km in diameter.

The tallest tsunami recorded occurred at Lituya Bay in Alaska in July 1958. About 40 million cubic yards/30.6 million cubic metres of rock fell about 3000ft/914m into Gilbert Inlet, causing a giant wave that removed all trees and vegetation from elevations up to 1720ft/524m above sea level.

Lituya Bay, Alaska
Although there seems to be some debate about the measurement process, the hottest place on earth with the temperature taken at ground level was apparently Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, California back in 1972, at 93.9 degC (201 degF). The hottest air temperature recorded was an alleged 86.7 degC/188.1 degF in Abadan, Iran in June 1967.

Death Valley, California
The coldest place ever recorded on earth was at Vostok Station in Antarctica, where it got down to –89.2 degC/–128.6 degF in July 1983. A bit nippy, in other words.

Vostok Station, Antarctica
The longest-duration lightning flash was 7.74 seconds in August 2012 in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France. The longest lightning bolt was in Oklahoma in June 2007 at 199 miles/321 km. The most frequent lightning strikes occur where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. It has an average of approximately 150 nights a year, ten hours per day, up to 280 strikes per hour.

Lake Catatumbo lightning
pic by TheChemicalEngineer
The heaviest hailstone ever recorded was one that weighed 1.02kg/2.25lb, which fell in Gopalganj District in Bangladesh in April 1986. The largest in circumference landed in Aurora, Nebraska in June 2003 and measured 476mm/18.75in. The largest hailstone in diameter was one measuring 20cm/8in. It fell at Vivian, South Dakota in July 2010.

So, remember some of these facts and figures the next time you experience extreme weather of your own. And remember—it could be worse…

This week’s Word of the Week is swullocking, which is an old word from the southeast of England meaning humid or sultry. Usually means there’s a thunderstorm on the way.


  1. With climate change, your last comment makes me think of the line about "Smile it could get worse," so...
    I didn't know that that snow here occurred across all the provinces in 2012. Snow at all in SA is unusual. Nice to know we have one of the records! I'll tout that when I'm in Minnesota this winter!

  2. Perhaps instead of 'could' I should have said 'will' instead, Michael...?

  3. I think you both mean it could be verse. Stop sighing. I for one am looking forward to BAD TURN!