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A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999


Feature of the Month: NOAA’s Summary of 1998

Item #d99jan37

At the beginning of 1999, the National Weather Service looked back on 1998 and issued a press release summarizing the major weather and climate events of one of the wildest weather years in recent times. The release highlighted the following statistics:

  • Despite a severe drought that extended from the Southern Plains to Florida during the spring and summer, 1998 was the wettest year since 1973 and the second wettest since 1895.
  • It was the warmest year on record with the 2nd warmest winter on record, 28th warmest spring, 9th warmest summer, and 2nd warmest autumn.
  • One of the strongest El Niños on record caused winter storms and floods from December 1997 to March 1998 that damaged property and crops in California and were blamed for 17 deaths. California recorded 200 to 400% of normal precipitation. El Niño shifted precipitation eastward across the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a Hawaiian drought from autumn of 1997 to May of 1998 that produced just 16% of normal rainfall, required water restrictions in several areas, and diminished reservoir supplies.
  • One of the worst ice storms on record struck southeast Canada and northeast United States in January, causing extensive damage to trees and power lines and taking 16 lives in the United States alone.
  • The second mildest winter in 103 years saved consumers billions of dollars in heating and snow-removal costs; winter temperatures averaged more than 10oF above normal over the North-Central states.
  • A wet, stormy spring broke rainfall records in the Midwest and Northeast and damaged crops in California; April-June was the wettest such period since at least 1895 in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the third wettest in Tennessee, and the fourth wettest in Iowa.
  • Severe storms spawned a tornado outbreak from the southeast to the north-central states; 333 tornadoes were recorded in just June, about 150 more than average; the national death toll from tornadoes was about three times the average.
  • Spring and summer heat and drought caused massive wildfire outbreaks in Florida and damage to crops from the Southern Plains to the Southeast; April-June was the driest such period in 104 years of record in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico; the total drought and heat costs exceeded $6 billion and resulted in at least 200 deaths. The drought extended into autumn from the mid-Atlantic to the Tennessee Valley; Tennessee posted its second driest autumn in 104 years of record.
  • Fourteen tropical storms and hurricanes developed in the Atlantic basin during the 1998 season, and three hurricanes and four tropical storms made landfall in the United States this year. Hurricane Mitch alone caused an estimated 9000 deaths in Central America and brought tornadoes, heavy rains, and flooding to southern Florida.
  • Tropical storms and other wet-weather systems brought heavy rains to Texas in the autumn, ending drought but causing at least 42 deaths from severe flooding.
  • Early winter storms across the Great Plains set all-time low-pressure readings in Iowa, 90-mph winds in Wisconsin, and 20-foot waves on Lake Michigan.
  • An unprecedented autumn heat wave from the Rockies to the East Coast broke or tied more than 700 daily-high temperature records.
  • Pacific storms produced 100-mph winds at the coast and record-setting precipitation that triggered floods in Washington and Oregon.
  • Although the abnormal weather contributed to a 28% decrease in the nation’s cotton crop and a 21% decrease in the orange crop compared with 1997, adequate rainfall and lack of sustained heat in the Central Plains and Midwest resulted in record soybean production, the second largest corn production ever, and the largest wheat crop since 1990.

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