Summer of Great Destruction to US, Left Trail Out of Ruin

It was a summer of violent weather in the U.S., with massive wildfires, searing heat, floods and hurricanes leaving trails of destruction. The disasters have hit in nearly every region of the country.

They’re further evidence that the Earth’s climate is changing, bringing hotter temperatures, stronger storms and more widespread devastation. 

Here are some of the records, near records and meteorological grenades that Mother Nature has thrown at America over the last three months:

Hurricanes: Hurricane Sally was the eighth named storm to reach the continental U.S. this year when it made landfall in Alabama early Wednesday.

That’s one short of the record set in 1916, and there’s a good chance that mark will be surpassed before the Atlantic storm season concludes at the end of November.

Hurricane Laura slammed into Louisiana last month with maximum winds reaching 150 miles (240 kilometer) per hour, matching a record set by the Last Island hurricane of 1856 as the strongest to hit the state. And earlier in August, Hurricane Isaias left more than a million customers from North Carolina to New York without electricity after the region was pummeled by the strongest winds since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

There have now been 21 named systems this year, the earliest date that’s happened in data stretching back to 1851. There have been so many storms that on Monday, there were five simultaneously swirling at once in the Atlantic for the first time since 1971.

Wildfires:  California’s blazes have charred more than 3.4 million acres (1.4 million hectares) this year, an area about the size of Connecticut and the most on record in a state that sees fires almost every year. Hotter, drier weather turns forests in the U.S. West into kindling that’s primed to burn, with seasonal late-summer winds that can spread sparks for miles.

Unsafe Air: Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. And when there’s record-breaking wildfires, you get dangerously bad air across the entire West Coast. Blazes in California, Oregon and Washington have consumed more than 5 million acres, leaving the region smothered in smoke that’s forced millions of residents to stay indoors for days. On Wednesday, Portland reported the worst air quality in the world.

Heat: Temperatures in Death Valley, California, reached a scorching 130 Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) on Aug. 16, the third-highest ever recorded on Earth, according to the World Meteorological Association.

Death Valley already holds the record for the hottest day ever, 134 degrees in 1913 at Furnace Creek, followed by Kebili, Tunisia, where the mercury climbed to 131 degrees in 1931. Other parts of the U.S. saw record temperatures, too. Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah all had their warmest August on record. Phoenix had its hottest month ever in August, with an average temperature of 99.1. And it was the hottest July ever across the Northern Hemisphere. 


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GULF SHORES, AL - SEPTEMBER 17: An aerial view from a drone shows people walking through a ALooded street after Hurricane Sally passed through the area on September 17, 2020 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The storm came ashore with heavy rain and high winds. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Derechos: A line of violent storms known as a derecho cut electricity to more than 1 million customers last month in the U.S. Midwest and destroyed more than 550,000 acres of corn in Iowa. It was 160 miles (260 kilometers) wide, bringing lightning, hail and deadly, 100 mile-per-hour winds that cut a path of destruction across Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. It was one of the most damaging storms ever for Eastern Iowa’s power grid, leaving some areas without power for more than a week.

(Updates number of storms. An earlier version corrected caption in a photo. )