History repeats itself: Here’s a look back at notable weather moments in September

Fires, snow and hurricanes have all taken place this week throughout weather history

A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter makes a water drop over a brush fire in the Sepulveda Basin in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. In Southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that popped up. The largest was a blaze in the foothills of Yucaipa east of Los Angeles that prompted evacuation orders for eastern portions of the city of 54,000 along with several mountain communities. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel) (Richard Vogel, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fires, snow and tropical cyclones. History has a way of repeating itself, especially in the weather department.

All of these weather elements are happening now and have happened during the week of Sept. 11-16 in years prior.

Let’s start with snow. A strong cold front moved south this week, sending areas like the Rockies, Midwest, and even Southwest regions of the U.S. flying past fall and straight into winter. Sno-way! It’s only September.

A lone pedestrian moves along the main street as a storm packing high winds and snow sweeps through the intermountain West, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Georgetown, Colo. Forecasters predict that the storm will continue through Wednesday before moving out on to the plains. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Well, in Denver, seeing trees dusted with snow this time of year is not totally unheard of, it’s just not as common as it once was. According to weather records from the National Weather Service that date back to 1882, this is the first measurable September snowfall to happen in 20 years. Here’s a look at a few notable September snow events that have added up, too.

  • 1971: 17.2″ of snow
  • 1936: 16.5″ of snow
  • 1959: 12.9″ of snow

On Sept 12, 1989, 2-3 inches of snow fell in Denver. No biggie, but it did cause some issues during the evening commute home.

Now, let’s talk fires.

The Creek Fire, along with roughly 367 wildfires, continues to burn in California.

History has shown time and time again the hot temperatures, Santa Ana winds, and low humidity add fuel to those fires, often spreading them too fast for firefighters to keep up. Looking back at California’s fire history through the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, two of the 20 most destructive wildfires occurred this week in history.

Many recall the Valley Fire that sparked on Sept. 12, 2015. This quickly took fifth place on the list of most destructive California wildfires. This fire destroyed over 76,000 acres, nearly 2,000 structures and, sadly, took the lives of four people in a little over a month. What began as a small brush fire sparked by faulty residential wiring of a hot tub, quickly changed with the help of dry, gusty winds carrying it. Within 5.5 hours, the blaze destroyed 10,000 acres.

The Rocky Fire burns through a valley on Aug. 2, 2015, near Clearlake, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Berkeley Fire of 1923 ranks 20th on the list of California’s most destructive wildfires. It, too, was carried by Santa Ana winds, allowing the fire to spread and burn 130 acres. Luckily, no one died but 584 structures were destroyed, leaving many without homes.

And, of course, this is quite the week for hurricane history.

The 10th of September is the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season. So far this week, the tropics have been busy. So far this season, there have been 12 tropical storms and five hurricanes. The next name on the list is Sally, which could be used later in the week. For a live look at what’s happening in the tropics, click here.

Some Central Floridians may recall the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944. On Sept. 13, the strong Category 4 storm moved away from the Bahamas, staying offshore from Central Florida. The Destroyer USS Warrington was sunk about 300 miles east of Cape Canaveral. Sadly, 247 men aboard died.

This hurricane was also a benchmark in aviation weather and research. It was the first hurricane the aircraft reconnaissance was flown into intentionally. The crew managed to safely return but the aircraft took a lot of damage.

On Sept. 16, 1961, Hurricane Esther became the first hurricane to be seeded by the U.S. Navy in a joint effort with the U.S. Weather Bureau in a project known as StormFury. The government had prior seeding experiments dating back to Project Cirrus in 1947, but this was the first joint effort. The project was an attempt to weaken tropical cyclones by seeding the storm with silver iodide as the aircraft flew through the tropical cyclone. The thought was that the silver would freeze the super-cooled water in the storm and result in a disruption or weakening of the inner structure. The data showed most hurricanes didn’t have enough super-cooled water for the seeding to be effective.

All was not lost from the experiments. Observation data and storm life cycle research taken during each event actually helped improve the ability to forecast the movement and intensity of tropical cyclones.

Sept. 11, 2001, started out a beautiful day in Manhattan but soon turned into one of the most tragic days in American history as dark clouds of smoke and ash filled the sky shortly after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. To this day, many people wonder if the events that unfolded that morning would have been different if Hurricane Erin had made landfall. Hurricane Erin stayed offshore as a cold front pushed through the day before. One can only speculate that if the storm had raced up the coast, the events of 9/11 may have unfolded differently. Perhaps there could have been flight delays or cancellations with the threat of a major storm. Strong high pressure moved in behind the front, nudging the tropical cyclone away. The chilling imagery below from NASA shows the Category 3 hurricane and the smoke from the towers just west of it.

GOES-8 imagery of Hurricane Erin & the New York Twin Towers (Sept 11, 2001) (1439 UTC / 10:39 EST) (NASA)

Tropical cyclone activity making landfall in New York is not completely unheard of in September. Hurricane Gloria made landfall as a Category 3 on Long Island in September 1985. It was the first major hurricane to hit Long Island since Donna in 1960. Hurricane Donna took 36 lives and caused an estimated $100 million in damages in New York.

Best track positions for Hurricane Erin, Sept 2001. Track during extratropical stage is based on analysis from the NOAA Marine Prediction Center. NOAA (NOAA)

About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.