ORLANDO, Fla. – There were many unforgettable moments in 2020, especially a global pandemic -- and even the weather wasn’t free from the effects of COVID-19.
Here’s a look back at a few weather events, some of which occurred in Central Florida, that made their mark last year.
After ringing in the New Year, Puerto Rico shook. Earthquakes rattled the island and then seemed like they would never stop. The 10-day string of quakes included a powerful 6.4 earthquake that caused extensive damage and claimed lives. Although the Caribbean is a hot spot for seismic activity based on the location of the tectonic plates, the 6.4 quake was the most powerful to happen since 1918.
Things started to really heat up in March in Central Florida. Normally in early spring, the average high temperature is 79 degrees. Central Florida hit the low 90s, and with no rain chances in sight, it added to the rain deficit that would quickly rocket to well above 10 inches below the normal rain totals. It took most of the summer to get back to normal rainfall values.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown that dominated headlines around the globe, weather wasn’t free from the pandemic. The lack of air travel started to impact forecasting models due to the lack of data that planes provide, like wind speed and moisture content in the air. The lockdown caused 75-80% of aircraft observations to be eliminated from model forecasting, not just in the states but around the world.
The only upside to the lockdown in the weather world was the improvement of air pollution. Numbers decreased so much that people in Punjab, India, were able to see the Himalayas, over 100 miles away, for the first time in 100 years. It was an internet view shared all around the world.
Then came the dust. Saharan dust visits each year in early hurricane season, but the dust in 2020 was far from average. In fact, it was abnormally thick. Video taken in Puerto Rico showed just how thick it was. It lasted for several days. While it kept the tropics quiet, it brought air quality for those who suffer with breathing issues down to hazardous levels.
Tornadoes. Sure they’re a part of summer storm hazards in Central Florida, but last year was one many residents in DeLand won’t soon forget.
The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-2 tornado, packing 105-115 mph winds, tore through the city in Volusia County in August. It left 11,000 people without power and caused thousands of dollars in damages on its 550 yard-wide, 4.6 mile path. A second, smaller EF-0 tornado was also confirmed that day.
Wildfires out west made headlines around the nation for months. Record breaking heat wave and drought led to the most active wildfire season recorded in California in August.
Three out of four of the largest fires in the states history were burning all at once. The fire season shattered fire records with a whopping 4 million acres burned. The previous record was just over 259,000 acres burned in 2019.
Dare we even mention the tropical madness that was the 2020 hurricane season? Although Florida dodged a lot of activity, Louisiana wasn’t so lucky. A record 5 named storms struck the state. Three of those storms were hurricanes, including Hurricane Laura, which was the strongest to make landfall in terms of windspeed since 1856. The entire season was madness as it racked up 30 named storms in the season. The old record was 28 named storms in 2005. It was only the second time a hurricane season had to use the Greek alphabet to name storms. A record 12 storms made landfall in the United States. There were 13 actual landfalls if you count Eta’s two right here in the Sunshine State.
To round out the year, we ended it all with a freezing Christmas and an incredible view of the Christmas Star. No, we don’t mean the one on the Christmas tree, this one was out of this world! No really, it’s true.
Clear skies on the 21st of December allowed many to enjoy the view of Jupiter and Saturn actually visible in our nights sky, the closest they had been in 800 years. The planets won’t be that close again until 2080. Jupiter can and will completely cover Saturn again, but it’s a long wait. That event will take place in the year 7541.
Christmas came along and Santa brought Central Florida a cold front. Not just any cold front. It was complete with freezing cold temperatures and didn’t require batteries to work. Not only was it the coldest Christmas since 1995, with highs topping out at 53 degrees, but it ranked the 10th coldest of all time in Central Florida. The coldest Christmas on record for us was in 1983, with a high of 36 degrees and lows in the low 20s recorded at Orlando International Airport.