Top 5 Weather Stories of 2013

The weather of 2013 was quite a mystery as the United States experienced one of the slowest years on record for both tornadoes and hurricanes. On the flip side the weather events that did occur were some of the worst on record. The US experienced 8 billion dollar weather disasters in 2013 compared to 11 in 2012, 13 in 2011 and 4 in 2010. In no particular order, lets take a look at some of the top weather stories of the past year.

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Photo of the May 31st 2013 El Reno Oklahoma Tornado. Credit: Chris Machian/The Omaha World-Herald/AP Photo

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5. The El Reno Oklahoma Tornado

On May 31st El Reno Oklahoma narrowly avoided a major disaster as a monster tornado skirted just outside of town. The El Reno tornado was the widest tornado ever to be recorded in the United States, measuring 2.6 miles in diameter at its peak. Meteorologists tracked this tornado for 16.2 miles before it finally dissipated. This tornado will also be remembered for being the first to ever take the lives of storm chasers that were pursuing it. Storm chasing legend Tim Samaras, his son Paul and partner Carl Young were killed while driving along side the tornado for research purposes. The record-breaking size and strength of this EF3 tornado caught many storm chasers and residents off guard, which resulted in 8 fatalities and 151 injuries. Over a dozen more fatalities resulted from flooding that occurred along side the tornado. Many of the injuries and damage incurred during this tornado were the result of residents going against the advice of local officials by trying to outrun the storm rather than remaining at designated shelter areas. Controversy followed the tornado as it was originally rated and EF-5 (the strongest and rarest of tornadoes) but was then revised by the NWS to be rated an EF-3. This caused debate amongst the weather community as to how tornadoes should be rated.

4. Super Typhoon Haiyan

Monster storms are not uncommon in the Philippines and South East Asia as Typhoons are part of life in the highly populated areas near the Pacific Ocean. Many residents have seen a number of storms, each with their own varying intensities and subsequent damage to property. Residents gained a new measuring stick this past year as all future typhoons will now be compared to the Super Typhoon Haiyan which impacted the area in November of 2013. The effect of Typhoon Haiyan was felt through the Philippines, Southern China, Vietnam and various smaller islands of Asia. The Philippines,took the brunt of the damage, resulting in several thousands of fatalities, widespread looting and environmental hazards. Though there is no exact figure available as of yet tallying the total number of deaths and injuries caused by Typhoon Haiyan, reports indicate that at least 6,155 people were killed in the Philippines alone. The UN reported that at somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 million people were affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Officially, Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm ever recorded when it reached land. Reports about Haiyan's maximum wind speed per ten minutes vary from 145 mph to 167 mph, which makes it a possible contender for the strongest typhoon ever recorded.

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Satellite images show the extent of the storm as it approached the Philippines on 7 November. At times it stretched 600km (372 miles) across. If the same storm was placed over a map of Europe it would stretch from London to Berlin. From BBC News

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3. Moore Oklahoma EF-5 Tornado.

On May 3rd 1999, Moore Oklahoma was the site of one of the most intense and deadly tornadoes of all time. A massive F5 (the strongest on the Fujita Scale) tore through the city causing death and destruction. Unfortunately, this scene would be replayed in May of 2013 with eerie similarities. Between May 18 and May 21, 2013, a strong upper level trough dug into the central and Southern United States merging with a shortwave trough and a strong polar jet to create the perfect environment for strong tornadoes. This resulted several days with tornado producing storms primarily in Kansas & Oklahoma. On May 19th a tornado rated EF-4 hit Shawnee Oklahoma causing major damage and several deaths. This was the ominous precursor to what was to come the following day. The Moore Oklahoma tornado touched down as an EF0 tornado west of Newcastle on the afternoon of May 20th. It then proceeded to travel through rural and suburban areas to causing EF4 damage before a rare tornado emergency was issued for Moore. The damage was so severe that the tornado ripped off part of a decommissioned bridge and scattered it across Interstate 44. The Moore tornado then traveled through several farms before entering Moore where it first reached EF5 classification after killing around 100 horses and destroying homes, farms and an entire subdivision of homes near a school. The massive tornado tore through Moore at EF-5 intensity demolishing an elementary school killing seven students inside. The tornado leveled hundreds of homes, shops and businesses until it reached the northeast corner of Moore and tapered off. The tornado had peak winds that meteorologists estimate were upwards of 210 miles per hour. The final damage and fatalities were staggering estimated to be in the range of $2 billion, 377 injuries and 25 deaths. The actions of the Nation Weather Service and local authorities saved thousands of lives as warnings were issued well before the tornadoes hit. After the tornado many questioned the fact that most schools in Oklahoma do not have adequate tornado shelters and should they now be required.

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An EF-5 tornado moves past homes in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20th 2013. Photograph by Alonzo Adams/AP.

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2. Colorado Floods

Flooding can be as dangerous, if not more so than any other type of natural disaster. The flooding that occurred between September 9 and September 15, 2013 in Colorado was what some experts called “biblical in proportions” A stretch of 200 miles from the Foothills to Denver was inundated with rain and flood waters that stretched from the northeastern part of Colorado down to the central parts of Colorado. The large volume of precipitation was the result of a storm system stalled out over the Rocky Mountains ironically in the same spot that has been mired in a severe drought for several years. Depending on the location many areas received between 9 and 20 or more inches of rain in a 24 hour period. Flash flooding caused an estimated $2 billion in damage after destroying 1,500 homes and damaging another 19,000. While more than 11,000 people were safely evacuated from the floods, 1,750 people were forced to be rescued from the waters. Eight deaths were confirmed, two people were missing and several hundred people were unaccounted for after the floods receded. While the Colorado floods were not the worst flooding that Colorado has ever experienced, the volume of rain that fell does make the rainfall during the flooding the heaviest recorded. This type of flooding had occurred once in Colorado's recent history. In 1976, a similar but more intense flash flood roared down the Big Thompson Canyon killing 143 people after a storm dropped 12 inches of rain in less than four hours.

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A bridge collapsed after flash flooding at the Broomfield/Lafayette border in Colorado on Sept. 12. The flooding in Colorado earlier this month was

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1. The Colorado Wild Fires

Similar to Oklahoma, Colorado was hit with two major natural disasters in 2013. While the Northern portion of Colorado was being hit with heavy rain and flooding the Southern portion was mired in a major drought that had been on going for several years. Record breaking high temperatures and lack of rain had turned ares in and around Colorado Springs into a tinder box. These dry, hot conditions paved the way for rampant wildfires that spread across the Southern portion of Colorado this past summer . The worst of these fires being the Black Forest blaze that destroyed 570 homes and caused the loss of two lives. This after the summer of 2012 Waldo Canyon fire destroyed a housing development North West of Colorado Springs. While the actual causes for the fires may differ, the one common factor was present and that was strong winds.. These winds gave the fires ample fuel to burn and rapidly spread. The largest fires occurred in Black Forest, East Spanish Peak and Royal Gorge Park near Canon City. The fires covered 14,280 acres, 13,572 acres and 3,218 acres respectively. The Black Forest fire is currently the largest recorded wild-fire to occur in Colorado and was responsible for the majority of the damage that occurred during the 2013 Colorado wild fires. Remarkably, The Black Forrest fire recorded the only deaths and consumed 511 homes.

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The weather of 2013 will no be remembered for the amount of extreme weather events but the magnitude and strength of these events. In my opinion the type of weather we experienced in 2013 is not uncommon. The climate goes through a cycle and we have seen many years like this before and we will see it again. Thankfully as we improve warning times and awareness of these types of natural disasters we can continue to reduce the death toll. Please take a moment to review your plan of action for the 2014 storm season.