Independence Day is historically not spared from wild weather

Looking back at historical weather events impacting July 4th

Fireworks display over Lake Eloise at LEGOLAND ® Florida Resort.
Fireworks display over Lake Eloise at LEGOLAND ® Florida Resort. (Chip Litherland Photography Inc.)

Florida – The Independence Day holiday is one where many Americans tend to celebrate outdoors, thus the forecast is of great importance. It was also important to Thomas Jefferson before he signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Jefferson was noted in historical documents to have purchased a thermometer from a local merchant that day. He was known for keeping detailed weather records that went almost unbroken until 1816. According to his weather journal the weather o July 4th, 1776 was cloudy with a temperature of 76 degrees. The day after signing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson bought his first barometer.

This was taken from Thomas Jefferson's weather observation journal on July 4th, 1776. (NOAA)

Unfortunately, the Independence Day holiday hasn’t always been a time of tame weather. We’re not just talking about Central Florida storms delaying firework displays in years past either. In fact, there have been notable events that have dampened festivities and even caused billions of dollars in damages.

In 2003, severe storms left a path of destruction over eight states in the Midwest and Plains. It wasn’t just a one-day event. The storms began on July Fourth and lasted five days totaling $1.2 billion in damages.

A few years ago, in 2019 instead of hearing Black Cat firework celebrations outside, residents in parts of Colorado heard hail. Many people were outside attending festivals when the storm came roaring through dropping rain and quarter-size hail from the sky. Many homes and businesses were damaged. Destruction in the Denver and Ft. Collins area totaled $1 billion.

All the green icons in Colorado indicate hail reports from storms that rolled through impacting July 4th festivities. (Storm Prediction Center)

With all eyes on Elsa in the tropics right now, we decided to look for a Fourth of July hurricane and found one. Hurricane Arthur in 2014 started out as disorganized showers over the northwestern Gulf on June 25.

This is the best track path Hurricane Arthur made in 2014. (NHC)

By July 1, a tropical depression had formed as the system moved in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream just east of the sunshine state and helped the wave become more organized near the Bahamas. From there it strengthened to a tropical storm roughly 60 miles east of Fort Pierce, Florida. It took a few days, but light upper-level winds and warm ocean temperatures allowed Arthur to strengthen off the Florida coast, eventually becoming a hurricane on July 3 closer to Savannah, Georgia. On July Fourth, Arthur made landfall history in North Carolina. The system made landfall in Shackleford Banks in the early morning hours of Fourth July. It went on record as the earliest hurricane to make landfall in the state since records began in 1851. Prior to that the earliest date was July 11, 1901 when a hurricane made landfall between Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk.

Arthur brought damaging storm surge to the Outer Banks in addition to the flooding rain of 3-5 inches in North Carolina. Prior to landfall the rain fell hard in South Carolina where residents in Myrtle Beach received 8.73 inches of rain.

In total Arthur left behind damages tallying up to roughly $39 million from the Bahamas all the way north to Nova Scotia.


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.