If you’re looking for a decade of extreme weather – pick the 1930s, not the 2010s. The above graph is from the EPA and shows the Heat Wave Index since 1895. The decade of heat waves was the 1930s (when CO2 was roughly 310 parts per million).
This graph shows state all-time record highs by decade – 24 of the 50 states set their all-time record high temperatures in the 1930s…almost more than all other decades combined! BTW, we had just 310 ppm of CO2 in the air back then. Michigan’s warmest temp. was 112 at Mio on July 13, 1936. The warmest temp. ever in Grand Rapids was 108 on that same day – and we had an entire week with an average high temperatures of 102.7.
Let’s add all-time state record low temps. by decade. Look at that…1930s wins again! The coldest temp. ever in Michigan was -51 at Vanderbilt on Feb. 9, 1934. (graph from State Climatologist of Alabama).
This graph is from NOAA/National Climate Data Center – Climate at a Glance. You can see again, the warmest temperatures in the 1930s. Globally, we had cooler temperatures from the 1940s to the 1970s, warming after that, but the 1930s still stands out for a decade of “extreme” heat.
This is the Palmer Drought Index from the dry year of 1934. Geographically, this was a much bigger and more extreme drought than recent droughts. While farming practices contributed to the “dust bowl”, the drought allowed the wind to pick up the dirt and form the great clouds of dust (also, geographically, there was relatively little agriculture in the western half of the U.S. in 1934).
This map is also from NOAA/NCDC Climate at a Glance and shows U.S. summer precipitation since 1925. 1928 was the wettest year and again, the 1930s stand out for the period with the longest and deepest droughts.
The U.S. has been in a “hurricane drought” since 2005. Globally, hurricane activity has decreased in the last 10 years. Compare that to the Great Labor Day Florida Keys Hurricane of 1935 (strongest ever to hit the U.S. with sustained winds of 185 mph) and also the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 with 160 mph winds – twice as fast as Hurricane Sandy.
We have a record of Strong to Violent Tornadoes since 1950 – the number of these strong tornadoes has decreased a little since the 1950s and 1960s. In Michigan the contrast has been obvious. We had 12 EF4 to EF5 tornadoes in Michigan from 1953 to 1977 and not a single EF4/5 tornado since 1977 (the Kalamazoo and Dexter tornadoes were EF3s). From 2000 – 2016, the U.S. has had 15 EF5 tornadoes, from 1960 – 1976, we had 36 F5/EF5 tornadoes.
Also check out the Mississippi River Flood of 1927 (I know, not the 1930s, but worse than what we’ve experienced in the 2000s. Also, read about the Michigan Blizzard of 1936 (same year as Michigan’s hottest day ever on July 13).
The networks have upped their coverage of weather and weather events. That and the ease of getting video of weather events compared to past decades might give you the impression that weather events like hurricanes, heat waves and cold spells are increasing at a rapid rate…that’s clearly not true. There are more people and more property now…a tornado that went through rural countryside 75 years ago may go through a populated suburb today and hurricanes that hit sparsely-populated or unpopulated barrier islands 150 years ago are hitting densely settled coastline today, but weather events are no more common today than they were 80 years ago.