NC's extreme weather year has some asking, 'What's next?'

Posted October 31, 2011
Updated November 1, 2011

— After this year’s frigid cold, sweltering heat wave, historic tornado outbreak and hurricane flooding, North Carolina’s extreme weather has some asking, “What’s next?”

More than 25 tornadoes touched down dozens of times in 33 North Carolina counties on April 16. Twenty-four people were killed, hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands were damaged.

July 24 marked the fifth day day in a row with 100-degree temperatures at Raleigh Durham International Airport, setting an all-time record. The high temperature in Raleigh hit 101 degrees on July 24, also beating a record for the date, which was set last year at 100 degrees.

Hurricane Irene swept up the North Carolina coast Aug. 27, leaving homes flooded, roads washed out and businesses damaged along the shorelines of ocean and sound.

North Carolina’s spot on the map makes just about any weather event possible. It's one of three states, along with South Carolina and Georgia, bordered by warm water on one side and a major mountain range on the other. The result is weather that amazes everyone from children to seasoned meteorologists.

"When I first moved here, I was scared to death it was going to be a boring climate, and I found out just within a matter of days that I misjudged that grossly,” said WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel. “The number of things I’ve seen in the three decades I’ve been here run the gamut from one extreme to the other."

Fishel also remembers 1977, before he came to WRAL, when the winter was so cold it froze portions of the Albemarle Sound, a phenomenon unprecedented in modern history, he said. That was followed by a "vicious summer, in terms of heat," he said.

However, 2011 has proven to be one of the most extreme weather years on record, and not just in North Carolina. Texas suffered the worst drought in its history, the Mississippi River produced record floods and Missouri and Alabama experienced fatal tornado outbreaks of their own.

lightning Extreme weather year has some asking, 'What's next?'

State climatologist Ryan Boyles says records show North Carolina went through a similar period of severe weather in the 1950s.

“This is the combination of everything that you can expect in a nine-month period. It’s pretty unusual,” he said. “But even beyond that, there’s maybe something else going on that we don’t quite understand.”

Boyles says the combination of extremes so close together makes it even more unusual – the 14th coldest winter on record at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, followed by the seventh warmest spring and then the second hottest summer.

Those types of extremes “may be unprecedented in our historical record,” according to Boyles.

“That’s one of the things we’re really trying to understand. What are the things that cause that? We don’t entirely understand all of it or we’d be able to predict it better, but we’re getting there,” he said.

Some say it could be climate change, the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon, urbanization or simply the increased paving of asphalt on North Carolina roads and other areas, which changes the way the state heats up.

Fishel says there is no easy answer to explain North Carolina’s weather this year. In his time at WRAL News, he has experienced "some pretty amazing occurrences" – a large tornado outbreak in March 1984, 9-below-zero temperatures breaking an all-time cold record in 1985, a Raleigh tornado in 1988 and a rash of hurricanes in the mid-90s.

This year's extreme weather has some questioning what the future holds.

“What’s going to be next?" asked Alix Jones, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Like volcanoes, blizzards, something like that?”


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  • lprop Nov 1, 2011

    What's next? Is there really any person who can answer that????

  • MrX-- Nov 1, 2011


    Muller's recent paper is starting to blow up in his face. They went public with it before the peer review process was over and now one member of his team has called them on it.

    Quote from the Daily mail article:
    "Prof Judith Curry, who chairs the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at America’s prestigious Georgia Institute of Technology, said that Prof Muller’s claim that he has proven global warming sceptics wrong was also a ‘huge mistake’, with no scientific basis.

    Prof Curry is a distinguished climate researcher with more than 30 years experience and the second named co-author of the BEST project’s four research papers."

  • Force_One Nov 1, 2011

    "Every human being gives off heat at an average rate of 200 btu's per. (7,000,000,000 X 200 = 1,400,000,000,000 btu's)(that's 1.4 trillion btu's)"

    That's not to mention the methane we produce! :)

  • kikinc Nov 1, 2011

    MrX- His prior research has been used in arguments against global warming for years. Regardless of how he may have felt, skeptics were running with it.

    And he didn't address a cause in his latest research, just that the world is indeed warming up. He even goes as far to say that the greenhouse gas threat is unproven.

  • SaveEnergyMan Nov 1, 2011

    "Every human being gives off heat at an average rate of 200 btu's per. (7,000,000,000 X 200 = 1,400,000,000,000 btu's)(that's 1.4 trillion btu's)"

    -- per what? Your facts are off. Fact: the average person gives off about 330 BTU/hr (sensible+latent), roughtly equivalent to a 100 Watt light bulb. That adds up to 700,000 MW of heat. Shearin Harris by itself is about 2,200 MW (thermal) by itself - so it's equal to about 300 S-H plants.

    Put another way, solar radiation on a sunny day is about 1,000 Watts per square meter. 7 billion people is equivalent to 700 million square meters of solar radiation - or about 25 square miles of equivalent solar radiation on a sunny day in the summer -- humans are inconsequential against the solar load.

  • redrubberball1 Nov 1, 2011

    "I hope that you are not implying that this heat is the result of human heat."

    No such implication. Any thinking person will intuitively recognize that the answer is thermal mass. That's why Phoenix, Az. can be 85 deg. late at night.

  • nighttrain2010 Nov 1, 2011

    >>Climate Scientists have been using computer models to tell us that man-made global warming will increase the amount and severity of weather patterns like this. - hereandnow99

    You mean like the ones at CERN? Who were determined to 'prove' man made global warming but somehow didn't?

    I HIGHLY doubt the scientists at CERN were in the backpockets of anyone denying climate change

  • MrX-- Nov 1, 2011

    @kikinc "You know, one of the biggest doubters of global warming/climate change just changed his mind when he was finished with his own research."

    Just because you call Richard Muller a "doubter" doesn't mean he was. He previously gave the theory that Humans cause global warming 2/3 odds.

    Muller was a self proclaimed skeptic but he leaned heavily toward the human caused theory.

  • cwood3 Nov 1, 2011

    Hey Shaddow-just follow Jim Cantore-not Greg. Jim's got a pipeline.

    Did you guys see the Weather Channel the other day-Saturday I think-when Jim Cantore was saying they could get "thunder snow" in Harrisburg,PA. Then, it happened-boom-lightening and thunder in a snow storm!! Amazing!!

    For those of you expecting 3 weeks of winter, you best be driving south. Lately, the warmer the summer's been-the colder the winter's been.

    Expect much cold this winter!! Better buy your shovels now. Hudson's Hardware in both Garner and Clayton always have snow shovels!! Smart people!!

  • Dixiecrat Nov 1, 2011

    Umm, I think winter's next...