Top 10 Weather/Climate
Events in 2011

Here is a listing of the top 10 weather and climate events for 2011 in the NWS La Crosse Warning and Forecast Area. This includes areas of southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and southwest/central Wisconsin.

This listing is the result of voting among NWS La Crosse staff members (13), Emergency Management Directors (6), and members of the media (7).

Climate related data and numerous images courtesy of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center (http://mcc.sws.uiuc.edu/).

Updated: 12/27/11 - tjs

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Honorable Mention: Dry Fall / Developing Drought

A drought began to develop across Minnesota, Iowa, and western and northeast Wisconsin during August and September. The driest areas were over parts of Minnesota and Iowa where severe drought conditions had developed by early winter (D2) reducing yields on soy beans, creating high fire danger, and hampered fall tillage.

Rochester, MN had their 5th driest August on record (only 0.96" of rain) and the 5th driest October (only 0.29" of rain). Spring Valley, MN had their driest October on record (0.56"). To top it off, in November, Rochester only received 0.2" of snow (8th lowest ever).

drought monitor december 13 2011


Honorable Mention: August 23 - Chili, WI Tornado

Severe thunderstorms developed over Clark County, Wisconsin initially dropping large hail around Thorp and Neillsville. They continued to strengthen as they moved southeast and eventually produced a tornado near the small community of Chili, WI. The tornado was rated an EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale and tracked about 7.2 miles causing two known injuries.

Severe weather was very isolated in the region that day as you can see by the following image (click to enlarge).  House damage is also shown below around Chili.

severe weather reports from August 23rd 2011 damaged house

For a more detailed summary of this event from the La Crosse National Weather Service, click here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/?n=aug2311


10. June 7th Heat

On June 7th, Rochester, MN had a high temperature of 101 (F) degrees, the first time the high had topped the 100-degree mark since July 31, 1988.  This set a new record for the date.

The temperature hit 100 degrees in La Crosse, WI and Austin, MN, while most other locations had highs in the 90s.  According to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, there were more than 500 record high maximum temperature records set during the first week of June 2011.


9. Cold Spring

From mid April to early May, temperatures were quite cool across the region delaying field work and planting. Corn planting, for example, was 20% to 45% behind the 5-year average in the Midwest going into early May after 23 straight days of colder than normal readings. It was the sixth coldest for this time period and the coldest since 1956.

Ironically enough temperatures rebounded to well above normal by mid May.

temperature departures temperature departures for april 2011 temperature departures for spring 2011
Average maximum temperature (deg F) departure from mean (April 17-23, 2011). (Click on image to enlarge) Average temperature (deg F) departure from mean (April 2011). (Click on image to enlarge) Average temperature (deg F) departure from mean (Spring 2011). (Click on image to enlarge)

8. The Perfect Melt ("The Flood That Wasn't...")

Going into the spring of 2011, all indications were looking quite favorable for an active spring snowmelt with flooding expected along most area rivers. Not only were many rivers still high from a wet fall in 2010, but snowfall and snow pack over the winter were above average which could have made for major to record flooding depending on how the spring melt played out. The threat for the highest water levels was mainly along the mainstem rivers (Mississippi). Many communities held meetings, did extensive planning, and went through actual preparedness measures for the threat.

As it turned out, a gradual and well timed thaw to the snowpack occurred with minimal precipitation causing water levels to rise but remain below any significant flooding threat. While some tributaries and the mainstems did exceed flood stage (common in the spring), crests were not in the top 10 and the spring snowmelt flood season came and went fairly quietly.

moderate flood potential spring 2011 riverside park flood picture march 25 2011
Probabilities of at leaset Moderate flooding for spring 2011. (Click on image to enlarge) Mississippi River at Riverside Park in La Crosse, WI on March 25, 2011. (Click on image to enlarge)

The National Weather Service greatly appreciated the preparedness efforts and planning for what could have been a high impact event. This shows how communities are becoming more "Weather-Ready".


7. July 1-2 Severe Thunderstorms

A broken line of severe thunderstorms tracked across the area during the evening hours of July 1st causing sporadic wind damage from west to east. The Rochester, MN International Airport recorded a wind gust of 58 mph while widespread wind gusts between 65 and 75 mph were observed in neighboring counties.

Although the storms were weakening as they tracked through the area, they still produced severe wind gusts and damage all the way into central Wisconsin during the overnight hours.

For a more detailed summary of this event, click here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/?n=jul0111


6. February 20-21 Winter Storm

A potent storm system brought a mix of precipitation and hazards to the region on February 20-21, 2011. A mix of heavy snow, heavy sleet accumulation, thunderstorms, and even freezing drizzle caused major travel headaches.

A large area of 6-12 inches of snow fell across central and southern Minnesota and across much of Wisconsin. Nearly a foot of snow was recorded around Medford, WI, while Osseo, WI had 11.1", Owen, WI had 11.9", and Winona, MN had 9". Meanwhile further south, about a half inch of sleet and ice accumulated on objects and road ways from northern Iowa into southern Wisconsin.

hazard map from february 20 2011 ice accumulation in northern Iowa february 21 2011
National weather hazard map on February 20, 2011 showing the extensive coverage of this winter storm. (Click on image to enlarge) Ice accumulation in Worth County, IA from Feb.20-21st. Photo taken by Steve Yezek. (Click on image to enlarge)

5. September 2 Severe Thunderstorms

During the early morning hours of September 2nd (the Friday morning before Labor Day weekend), a cluster of strong to severe thunderstorms tracked along the Minnesota-Iowa stateline and into western Wisconsin producing sporadic, but intense wind damage. Crop damage in parts of northern Iowa especially was extensive along with hundreds of trees blown over into neighboring far southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. In Mitchell Co., IA an estimated 81,000 acres of corn had 60% loss leading to an estimated $41 million in losses. Short lived peak wind gusts of 60-70 mph were common as the storms remained fairly steady in intensity. Downed power lines in many areas caused power outages and trees fell on cars and homes.

For a more detailed summary of this event, click here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/?n=sep0211

crop damage in northern Iowa from September 2 2011 crop damage in northern Iowa from September 2 2011
Crop damage in parts of Howard County, IA on September 2, 2011. Photo by Kurt Glover. (Click on image to enlarge) Blown down corn crops in rural Howard County, IA - Sept. 2, 2011. Photo by Kurt Glover. (Click on image to enlarge)

4. February 1-2 Blizzard

A massive winter storm hit the Midwest to start February with blizzard conditions from Oklahoma into Michigan. Also known as the "Groundhog day blizzard", this storm hit the Chicago area especially hard causing traffic to halt and people to abandon cars on highways and busy streets. More locally, our area was on the northern edge of the storm with the heaviest snow across parts of northeast Iowa into southern Wisconsin. Combined with winds of 30-40 mph, travel became impossible with an estimated 100 people getting stranded. Across just Grant County, WI, conditions varied from light snow near the Wisconsin River (far north) to impassable, blizzard conditions along the Illinois border. Even front end loaders could not push through the snow drifts in the worst areas.

Some of the highest snowfall totals included 12" in St.Olaf, IA, Cuba City, WI and Platteville, WI, while 14.0 inches of snow was reported at Sinsinawa near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Rare winter storm related Federal Disaster declarations materialized from this event.

For more detailed summaries of this event, check these reports:

hazard map from february 1 2011 72 hour snowfall totals from february 1-2 2011 massive snow across Grant County Wisconsin February 2 2011
National weather hazard map from February 1, 2011. (Click on image to enlarge) Regional map of 72 hour snowfall totals ending at 8 a.m. February 2, 2011. (Click on image to enlarge) Snow near Patch Grove, WI on February 2, 2011. Photo courtesy of Grant Co. Sheriff Dept. (Click on image to enlarge)

3. July Heatwave

From July 16th through the 20th high temperatures were mainly in the 90s and dew points were in the 70s to the lower 80s. This created heat index values over 100 in most locations with the warmest extremes occuring on July 17th and 18th. On July 18th, Rochester, MN hit a heat index of 118 (93 temp / 83 dew point) which was the highest heat index and surface dew point on record there. Austin, MN hit a heat index value of 121 for two straight days while Charles City, IA hit 117. It ended up being the 6th warmest July on record in Rochester, MN and the 8th warmest in La Crosse, WI.

At least two fatalities (Crawford Co., WI - 82 year old, and Monroe Co., WI - 65 year old) were related to the heat wave and hundreds others were hospitalized for heat related illnesses.  There were 5 directly-related fatalities in Wisconsin alone, the first since 2006.

Graphic (left) showing temperature (deg F) departures in mid July 2011.  Image courtesy of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center.  (Click on image to enlarge)

The table below shows the actual high temperatures, highest heat index values, and highest dew point recorded at various locations during the 5-day heat wave.  Red shaded areas are heat index values at or above 105 deg F.  (Note:  High temperatures were missing for a few locations during the heat wave.)

   

SAT - July 16

SUN - July 17

MON - July 18

TUE - July 19

WED - July 20

CITY

STATE

HIGH

Heat Index

Dew Point

HIGH

Heat Index

Dew Point

HIGH

Heat Index

Dew Point

HIGH

Heat Index

Dew Point

HIGH

Heat Index

Dew Point

                                 
DODGE CENTER

MN

82

91

77

86

99

79

88

105

81

90

108

81

88

100

77

AUSTIN MN

90

105

81

91

111

82

93

121

84

93

121

84

93

111

81

ROCHESTER MN

87

100

78

91

108

80

94

118

83

94

112

83

91

105

79

WINONA MN

88

98

75

93

108

77

93

114

81

91

111

81

93

103

77

                                 
CHARLES CITY IA

88

105

81

91

111

81

93

117

82

 

117

82

91

108

79

DECORAH

IA

90

100

75

93

105

77

93

111

81

 

114

81

93

103

73

DUBUQUE IA

86

92

76

92

105

79

93

109

80

97

114

81

94

105

76

                                 
MEDFORD WI

82

89

75

91

111

82

91

108

81

86

99

79

91

105

79

BLACK RIVER FALLS WI

86

95

77

93

110

79

91

111

81

91

102

79

95

108

 
LA CROSSE WI

88

95

76

96

113

78

95

113

81

93

109

81

98

107

76

SPARTA WI

88

95

75

94

106

77

92

108

80

96

103

77

     
VOLK FIELD WI

86

95

72

93

111

81

91

114

85

91

108

84

95

107

80

VIROQUA WI

85

94

78

92

108

79

92

109

83

           
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN WI

89

99

77

94

108

77

96

114

81

96

116

82

96

103

76

BOSCOBEL WI

90

99

75

98

114

77

100

117

82

97

114

79

101

109

75

PLATTEVILLE WI

84

90

72

90

103

77

91

108

81

93

105

79

91

101

72


2. April 10 Tornadoes / Large Hail

The same storm system that brought large hail and tornadoes to parts of northern Iowa on Saturday, April 9th, tracked into the area on Sunday, April 10th.  Severe storms quickly developed by mid afternoon near the Mississippi River and tracked across a large part of Wisconsin.  Tornadoes, large hail, and damaging wind were all reported, but the main story was the large hail damage in some cities along with the tornado outbreak in Wisconsin.  It was the biggest daily April tornado outbreak in Wisconsin history with 15 documented ranging from an EF3 in Merrill, WI (Lincoln Co.) to several EF2s in parts of central and northeast Wisconsin.

In Juneau and Adams Counties, WI storms produced two EF1 tornadoes and a longer lived EF2 (17 mile track) that crossed Highway 21 just north of the small town of Arkdale and passed through the community of Cottonville.

Another major component of the storms was the large hail damage.  Hail up to 3 inches in diameter was reported in and around the La Crosse, WI area causing millions in damage to roofs, windows, and cars.  Mainly the south side of La Crosse was hit with golf ball size hail reported at the National Weather Service office just east of the city.

For more detailed summaries of severe weather on May 22, 2011, use the following links:

tornado damage near Arkdale, WI May 22, 2011 tornado damage in Adams County Wisconsin May 22, 2011 hail near la crosse may 22 2011

1. May 22 Tornadoes

During the afternoon and early evening hours of Sunday, May 22nd a large severe weather outbreak hit the nation's mid-section with roughly 75 tornado reports.  Of note, this was the day when Joplin, MO was hit by an EF5 tornado causing the loss of 158 people.  More locally though, several supercell thunderstorms produced 6 tornadoes and a total of 11 in Wisconsin (2nd most for May).  One thunderstorm in particular tracked from far northern Iowa, across southeast Minnesota, and into western and central Wisconsin producing intermittent tornadoes for several hours.  The track (nearly 120 miles long) went from Riceville and Chester, IA through the Harmony and Hokah areas in southeast Minnesota, through the south side of La Crosse, WI, into Sparta, near Tomah and eventually Nekoosa.  A section of the path produced an EF2 track 64.5 miles long in central Wisconsin.  The EF2 damage in La Crosse caused a lot of damage to businesses, homes, trees, and other buildings across the southern half of town.  It was the first time the city of La Crosse had been hit by a tornado since the 1960s.

Large hail also accompanied these storms, very typical of supercell or tornado producing storms.  Between 1:18 and 6:19 p.m., the La Crosse NWS issued 22 warnings (11 Severe Thunderstorm and 11 Tornado Warnings).  At one point the tornado producing storm tracked less than a mile from the office causing staff members to see shelter for a brief time.

For a more detailed summary of this event, click here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/?n=may2211 or this state write up (courtesy of NWS Milwaukee/Sullivan) at: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/news/display_cmsstory.php?wfo=mkx&storyid=68624&source=2

damage to pepsi building in la crosse may 22 2011 damage in far northern Juneau County Wisconsin may 22 2011
A tornado between Rockland and Sparta, WI on May 22, 2011. (Click on image to enlarge) Tornado damage to Pepsi Bottling Co. in La Crosse, May 22, 2011. (Click on image to enlarge) Damage to a farm near Finley, WI, May 22, 2011. (Click on image to enlarge)

Links to previous Top 10:


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