2018’s notable weather

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(Originally written for Allen Publishing’s print products on January 10, 2019)

The weather word for 2018 across much of North Carolina was “wet.” In fact, records for the wettest year on record fell one after the other in the last few weeks of the year.

According to my count on the Southeast Regional Climate Center’s CLIMPER tool, which maps data recorded at official and coop weather stations, 24 locations – excluding duplicate reporting stations such as Greensboro area versus the Greensboro airport – broke records for the wettest year on record.

2018 reord rainfal map

Credit: Southeast Regional Climate Center. Map showing cities and towns in the region with record-breaking or near record-breaking precipitation in 2018.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport recorded 60.29 inches of precipitation, which made 2018 its wettest year in the 74 years reports have been made at that station. Other record-breakers included Wilmington with 102.4 inches, New Bern with 79.18 inches, Greensboro with 64.11 inches, and Asheville with 79.49 inches.

Hurricanes Florence and Michael certainly assisted in reaching those milestones. However, anyone who tried to get yardwork done on the weekends can tell you more often than not, those plans were rained out, or at the very least soggy. In fact, the majority of the weekends in 2018 produced reported rainfall across the state.

Another record that fell at RDU International back in January was the most consecutive hours at or below 32 degrees when we hit 158, surpassing the record of 157 set in 1982. We spent the first 7 days of the year at or below freezing. The snow and ice that fell during a winter storm lingered in some areas for a week as the temperature struggled to get warm enough to make a difference.

RDU temp plot for January 2018

Credit: National Weather Service. RDU temperature plot for January 2018 showing a stretch of extremely cold weather that month.

Across the country, there was another trend in 2018 worth noting. Only this time, it was due to a lack of something happening. For the first time since 1950, there were no tornadoes rated EF-4 or EF-5 reported anywhere in the United States. Ironically, the same day I read that headline was the day I saw an abstract for a research letter entitled “Increasingly powerful tornadoes in the United States.” To be fair, the article reported on a study of the period 1994-2016.

Much of the country experienced a late winter/early spring with unusually cold weather, which limited tornado activity during what is usually the peak season for Tornado Alley. Of course, tornadoes don’t have to be highly rated on the Enhanced Fujita scale to be deadly. Ten people died as a result of tornadoes in 2018. While much lower than average, the number still represents tragic loss.

With last year behind us, we can now look ahead to 2019 and speculate on what the weather will bring. Perhaps an abnormally cold late January due to the weakening of the polar vortex? Possibly a few more inches of wintry precipitation? Or maybe a more active tornado season? Only time will tell for sure.