Top U.S. weather story of 2009: drought hits a 10-year low

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 07:05 PM GMT em 30 de Dezembro de 2009

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The weather gods were unusually kind to the U.S. in 2009, as the nation had no hurricane landfalls, a relatively quiet tornado season, no billion-dollar floods, and the lowest drought footprint of the decade by year's end. According to insurance giant Munich Re, the four costliest 2009 weather disasters in the U.S., not including droughts, were:

$2.5 billion: February 10 - 13 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$2.0 billion: June 10 - 18 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$1.7 billion: April 9 - 11 Severe weather and tornado outbreak
$1.5 billion: March 25 - 26 Severe weather and tornado outbreak


Figure 1. Lake Whitney, Texas in February 2009 (left) and July 2009 (right), after exceptional drought conditions gripped South Central Texas. Image credit: wunderphotographer Icheney44.

Costliest U.S. weather disaster of 2009: the Texas drought
The costliest U.S. weather disaster in 2009 was the Texas drought. According to preliminary estimates, the agricultural losses from the Texas drought will cost close to $4 billion. The drought actually began in 2007 - 2008, and at the beginning of 2009 (Figure 2), much of Texas was already experiencing "exceptional drought"--the highest level of drought classified by the U.S. Drought Monitor. By summer, much below-average rainfall and scorching triple-digit heat caused the exceptional drought region to expand over a large region of South Central Texas. However, by September, the southern branch of the jet stream became more active, as it typically does during strong El Niño events in the Eastern Pacific, putting southern Texas in the path of a series of drought-busting rain storms that continued into the winter. By December, just a few spots of moderate to severe drought remained in Texas. While the short-term drought is over, longer-term drought remains in Texas. Area lakes have seen only modest rises, and will take months to show significant improvements. Lake Corpus Christi was just 33% of capacity on December 26, and other South Central Texas lakes and reservoirs were between 59% and 100% of capacity. With El Niño conditions expected to continue through winter and spring, there is a good chance that Texas will enter summer 2010 free of both short and long-term drought, though.


Figure 2. What a difference a year makes: Texas began the year with exceptional drought conditions over a small region, which expanded to cover a large portion of the state in the summer. Fall and winter rains broke the drought, and by December only a few small spots of drought remained over Texas. The Southeast U.S. also began the year with widespread drought conditions, which eased by summer. However, drought conditions developed over the Desert Southwest, including most of Arizona. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Top U.S. weather story of 2009: drought at a 10-year low
As of December 2009, the U.S. was free of "exceptional drought" for the first time since June 2008, and had the lowest levels of the two highest drought categories--"extreme" and "exceptional"--since June 2005. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor archive, the 4.24% of the country experiencing severe or higher drought conditions in December 2009 was the lowest U.S. drought footprint of the decade (Figure 3). The previous low was 4.57%, in November 2005. This is very good news, since droughts typically cost the U.S. an average of $6 - $8 billion per year, and are our costliest weather-related disasters, according to FEMA. For comparison, Floods cause an average damage of $2.4 billion per year, and hurricanes, $1 - $5 billion per year.


Figure 3. Areal coverage of drought over the Contiguous U.S. from January 2000 to December 2009. Dark red colors are the highest level of drought, "exceptional"; bright red colors include the the next highest level of drought, "extreme (D3); orange colors include the next highest level of drought, "severe" (D2); light orange colors include next highest level of drought conditions, "moderate" (D1); and yellow colors include the lowest level of drought conditions, "Abnormally Dry" (D0). At the end of 2009, the Contiguous U.S. was experiencing its lowest drought footprint of the decade. Image credit: U.S. Drought Portal, National Integrated Drought Information System.

Drought is not increasing in the U.S.
Global warming theory predicts that although global precipitation should increase in a warmer climate, droughts will also increase in intensity, areal coverage, and frequency (Dai et al., 2004). This occurs because when the normal variability of weather patterns brings a period of dry weather to a region, the increased temperatures due to global warming will intensify drought conditions by causing more evaporation and drying up of vegetation. Increased drought is my number one concern regarding climate change for both the U.S. and the world over the next forty years. Two of the three costliest U.S. weather disasters since 1980 have been droughts--the droughts of 1988 and 1980, which cost $71 billion and $55 billion, respectively. The heat waves associated with these droughts claimed over 17,000 lives, according to the National Climatic Data Center publication, Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters. Furthermore, the drought of the 1930s Dust Bowl, which left over 500,000 people homeless and devastated large areas of the Midwest, is regarded to be the third costliest U.S. weather disaster on record, behind Katrina and the 1988 drought. (Ricky Rood has an excellent book on the Dust Bowl that he recommends in his blog post from January). However, despite significantly warmer temperatures over the U.S. over the past 40 years, drought has not increased, according to the U.S. Climate Extremes Index (blue bars, Figure 4). The portion of the U.S. experiencing abnormal drought and exceptionally wet conditions has remained nearly constant at 10% over the past century. A recent paper by Andreadis et al., 2006, summed up 20th century drought in the U.S.: "Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century. The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where, notwithstanding increased precipitation (and in some cases increased soil moisture and runoff), increased temperature has led to trends in drought characteristics that are mostly opposite to those for the rest of the country especially in the case of drought duration and severity, which have increased."


Figure 4. The Climate Extremes Index for January through November for drought (the December stats are not yet available, but the Jan - Nov numbers will not be much different). The worst U.S. droughts on record occurred in the 1930s and 1950s. There has been no trend in the amount of the U.S. covered by drought conditions (blue bars) or by abnormally moist conditions (red bars) over the past century. About 10% of the U.S. is typically covered by abnormally dry or wet conditions (black lines). Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

References
Andreadis, K. M. Lettenmaier, D. P., "Trends in 20th century drought over the continental United States", Geo. Res. Letters 33, 10, L10403, DOI 10.1029/2006GL025711

Dai A., K.E. Trenberth, and T. Qian, 2004: A global data set of Palmer Drought Severity Index for 18702002: Relationship with soil moisture and effects of surface warming", J. Hydrometeorol., 5, 11171130.

Gleason, K.L., J.H. Lawrimore, D.H. Levinson, T.R. Karl, and D.J. Karoly, 2008: "A Revised U.S. Climate Extremes Index", J. Climate, 21, 2124-2137.

Next post
Have a great rest of the decade, everyone, and I'll be back next decade with a new post on the top global weather story of 2009 (yes, I realize that the end of the decade is really on December 31, 2010, but I'll go with the flow on this! I want to thank all of you who helped out the Portlight charity cause this year, everyone who uploaded a wunderphoto, and everyone who participated in the great community we've built here at Wunderground! I look forward to 2010.

Jeff Masters

Lake Travis 2009 Drought (allford)
Over 30 feet below normal Lake Travis near Spicewood Tx is just a river bed.
Lake Travis 2009 Drought
Drought (GaryVA)
Most of Texas has been under serious drought conditions for about a year and a half. Much of the state is under Extreme Drought conditions. The agricultural/ranching/rural areas of the county are most affected, as the drought has a direct and significant impact on the livelihood of those making their living in a way dependent on nature. The importance of rain to daily life is reflected in this sign at a church in rural George West, Texas, in Live Oak, County.
Drought

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Quoting jipmg:


That would mean mid 50s for SFL for highs.. and low 30s for lows? Sike..

If that happens.. records will fall


BEFORE I jump on that bandwagon, let's see how big a chunk gets dragged off the main pool of Arctic air. I'd say lows near 40F/highs near 60F in WPB during the "heart of your cold snap".
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
.siht ekil kool dluow hcihW

Did you use a computer program to do that?
And I KNOW you KNOW I was kidding 'bout the Hebrew...though there's a distinct similarity here! :)

Hey, does everyone remember the link that TornadoDude posted awhile back with the upside-down writing? Wreaked blog havoc...but I don't think anyone got banned...Admin too busy scratching their heads??


I don't know how, but sometimes when I accidentally press a combination of keys on my computer it ends up making the writing go backwards.

Post 728: yikes. That's cold air all over the continent and still warm at sea.
Member Since: Agosto 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
Quoting FirstCoastMan:
what is the chance of it snowing in jacksonville,florida.


Slim, something to watch :o)
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting AstroHurricane001:
Hmm, all this talk of snow in Florida makes me think that Arctic air is flooding into the Northern continents (unpredicted cold weather and snow seen in North America, Europe and Asia) and leaving the oceans warm. Accuweather is predicting...uh...crazy snowfall amounts. The global ocean currents even seem like they're slowing down. By the way, I have some links to 48-hour satellite loops from December on my blog. I didn't post them here because that would stretch the blog (and they didn't work). Anyway, hope everyone is having a great New Year. Be resillient to the weather.


Astro, unprecidented, no, unusual for the Deep South/S Plains, yes! Maybe the coldest air is several years. IF the upper level pattern dumped all the Siberian air in at once, then you'd see widespread records falling. The GFS, GFSX, EMCWF send the Arctic air down in a few waves, not all at once! Thankfully. Our El Nino is acting like a "La Nina", with a moist, wild, kick, kinda' like an URGE!!
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
759. jipmg
Quoting Bordonaro:
Drak, those Thursday 1-7-10 temps look about right. They could be coider IF the trough digs deeper into the Southern US. One GFS computer model showed a long wave trough from Maine to New Mexico. IF that happens, its going to be real ugly, say 5F colder across the South! Oh boy, 28F for Dallas Ft Worth, TX :0)


That would mean mid 50s for SFL for highs.. and low 30s for lows? Sike..

If that happens.. records will fall
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.siht ekil kool dluow hcihW

Did you use a computer program to do that?
And I KNOW you KNOW I was kidding 'bout the Hebrew...though there's a distinct similarity here! :)

Hey, does everyone remember the link that TornadoDude posted awhile back with the upside-down writing? Wreaked blog havoc...but I don't think anyone got banned...Admin too busy scratching their heads??
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Quoting aquak9:
uhm..grothar...748? all I can use IS my imagination, all I see are the borders of the image.

Either that, or it's an awful lot of snow...


Hey aqua!!!The image didn't post properly, that is the reason I posted the sarcastic little remark after it. I was hoping no one would comment. Trust me, it was an interesting map. LOL
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what is the chance of it snowing in jacksonville,florida.
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Drak, those Thursday 1-7-10 temps look about right. They could be coider IF the trough digs deeper into the Southern US. One GFS computer model showed a long wave trough from Maine to New Mexico. IF that happens, its going to be real ugly, say 5F colder across the South! Oh boy, 28F for Dallas Ft Worth, TX :0)
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Think I'll go see about making up some Nittany Lion gumbo...

L8R.
Member Since: Agosto 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Hmm, all this talk of snow in Florida makes me think that Arctic air is flooding into the Northern continents (unpredicted cold weather and snow seen in North America, Europe and Asia) and leaving the oceans warm. Accuweather is predicting...uh...crazy snowfall amounts. The global ocean currents even seem like they're slowing down. By the way, I have some links to 48-hour satellite loops from December on my blog. I didn't post them here because that would stretch the blog (and they didn't work). Anyway, hope everyone is having a great New Year. Be resillient to the weather.
Member Since: Agosto 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
uhm..grothar...748? all I can use IS my imagination, all I see are the borders of the image.

Either that, or it's an awful lot of snow...
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Happy New Year's Day afternoon to all!

I've been in and out of the blog, but just reading, not posting. Just ended my holiday travel, having made trips to Boston, MA and South Florida. I was fortunate enough to miss the snowstorms prior to Christmas, and at the same time I enjoyed the cooler temps which we have not been experiencing here in Nassau. Today it's sunny and mild, but temps are forecast to get to mid 80s before a quasi-cold front passes through. So far it's looking like the only chance I will have to wear my winter gear has already passed.... lol

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Now tell me that is not the most interesting image posted so far this year. Leaves nothing to the imagination as to our forecast.
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Quoting Patrap:
Does "RAW" data need sugar atmo ?

Yes, and not just any sugar, Supreme sugar!

(no, not really, they went under I think. I once lived only a couple of miles from the Supreme refinery near Labadieville. The air was sweet when the wind blew the right way. Now I get paper mill stink with a NNE wind. Bad trade!)

And, AIM, I was not doing the Hebrew thing. I was wondering when we would get all post right to left.

.siht ekil kool dluow hcihW
Member Since: Agosto 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:


Been there, done that, and it's hard to clean out the freezer!!

Prob. TSA, USDA, and Homeland Security still trying to figure out why Norway is exporting liquid Via*** ("Urge")!


Sure...miss a few days in the blog and what happens.. they change the format and menu bars... and now we have ummmmm exports and imports.... not sure I want to know.
Member Since: Outubro 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting Grothar:


I've been tracking the shipment, still don't know why it hasn't arrived. I hope it doesn't freeze before it gets there. Could you imagine a case of sodas exploding! I put a can of Ginger Ale in the freezer once to cool it fast and forgot about it. Not a pretty sight!!!!!


Been there, done that, and it's hard to clean out the freezer!!

Prob. TSA, USDA, and Homeland Security still trying to figure out why Norway is exporting liquid Via*** ("Urge")!
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Does "RAW" data need sugar atmo ?
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
One last WV coment.

Theres an old saying that If you pushed West Virginia flat it would be larger than Texas!
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Things be a changing in the latest "Southern Solution" for next week,late..



AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HOUSTON/GALVESTON TX
354 AM CST FRI JAN 1 2010

.DISCUSSION...
CLOUDS WILL BE CLEARING FROM NW TO SE ACROSS THE AREA FOR THE NEXT
SEVERAL HOURS. SUSPECT THEY WILL PUSH ALL THE WAY OFF THE COAST
BY MID MORNING AND SE TX WILL GET ANOTHER SHORT GLIMPSE OF THE SUN
TODAY AND SATURDAY. HIGH PRES MOVES EAST ON SUN AND COASTAL TROF
BEGINS TO DEVELOP. ISENTROPIC LIFT WILL BRING INCREASED CLOUDINESS
TO THE REGION SAT NIGHT AND SUN. COULD SEE SOME SCT SHRA ON SUN
ESP CLOSER TO THE COAST AND OFFSHORE. ANOTHER COLD FRONT PUSHES
THRU THE REGION SUNDAY NIGHT FOLLOWED BY A FEW MORE COOL DRY DAYS
WITH HIGH PRES DOMINATING.

ONSHORE FLOW RESUMES LATE TUES AS HIGH PRES MOVES OFF TO THE EAST.
WESTERN H5 RIDGE AMPLIFIES ALLOWING COLD ARCTIC AIRMASS TO PLUNGE SWD
INTO SE TX LATE WED OR EARLY THURS (ASSUMING THE CURRENT FCST
TRAJECTORY HOLDS). WILL PROBABLY SEE SOME PRECIP AHEAD OF THE FRONT ON
WED...HOPEFULLY PUSHING E/SE BEFORE THE MUCH COLDER TEMPS ARRIVE.

MODELS HAVE BEEN HINTING AT THIS FOR SOME TIME NOW AND WILL
CONTINUE TO TWEAK FCST TEMPS DOWN ASSUMING CONTINUED MODEL
CONSISTENCY. STUCK WITH 20S FOR LOWS AND 30S FOR HIGHS NEXT
THUR/FRI BUT RAW DATA SUPPORTS EVEN COLDER READINGS.

Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
Quoting Drakoen:


Possibly... these are the Afternoon highs for next week Thursday:


Would u happen to have next Fridays map?
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Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
730. Nah, Grothar, you know enough languages! I tasked Atmo with that one (he started it, saying maybe the WU "improved"(?) site might need to have a left-to-right default...Atmo declined, as he was only on his second cup of coffee!

I NEED AN "URGE" UPDATE...T-Dude is igg'ing me...that won't work!!


I've been tracking the shipment, still don't know why it hasn't arrived. I hope it doesn't freeze before it gets there. Could you imagine a case of sodas exploding! I put a can of Ginger Ale in the freezer once to cool it fast and forgot about it. Not a pretty sight!!!!!
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Quoting tornadodude:
I have been to West Virginia once, had an amazing trip. went camping, rock climbing, and white water rafting (: I went to Fayetteville and went to New River Gorge, it was great!



New River Gorge is waycool. I'd like to go up there for "Bridge Day". They close it and let folks bungee jump and base jump from it. I'd like to bungee jump from it. I've done it a couple of times in PC Beach back in the nineties. It was from a crane tho. Id like to do it from the New River Gorge Bridge. What a rush!!
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Coffee is a good thing..

(Borrowed with permission from Martha Stewart)
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
Quoting Drakoen:


Possibly... these are the Afternoon highs for next week Thursday:


Based on the 12 Z run, a high of 35 F would be more appropriate for north of NOLA (but still in LA)...

A not unsubstantial swing from 55 F.
Member Since: Agosto 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting Drakoen:


With the models trends, I wouldn't be surprised to see freezing conditions into South Florida and a hard freeze for central and northern Florida. The GFS is trending colder as well as the GGEM who indicates temps in the 20s infiltrating into South Florida.


20 F?
Member Since: Outubro 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
730. Nah, Grothar, you know enough languages! I tasked Atmo with that one (he started it, saying maybe the WU "improved"(?) site might need to have a left-to-right default...Atmo declined, as he was only on his second cup of coffee!

I NEED AN "URGE" UPDATE...T-Dude is igg'ing me...that won't work!

ADD: I mean a right-to-left default! Oh, heck, I need more coffee!!
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Quoting hurricane23:


As i stated last night -2 at 850 that far south is tough to verify, but it's not impossible. We'll probably have some more wind chill advisories over the next week or two. The criteria for that in east central Florida is only 35 with 10 mph winds or greater.We might even see some advection freezes across central Florida, which means freezing temperatures with the wind still blowing, as opposed to radiational cooling freezes where there's a big high centered over us and we drop to 32 due to raditional cooling. Looks like some prefrontal shower activity for us later this afternoon with the cold airmass to follow. Regardless should be an interesting period ahead temperature wise!

adrian



With the models trends, I wouldn't be surprised to see freezing conditions into South Florida and a hard freeze for central and northern Florida. The GFS is trending colder as well as the GGEM who indicates temps in the 20s infiltrating into South Florida.
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Quoting hurricane23:


plenty of opportunitys out there if you ask me...Here are some shops that i often keep tabs on...

1-Fleet Weather
2-Weather Routing
3-Universal Weather & Aviation
4-Earthsat
5-AMS Career center

Sure. There are jobs that open up and good ones at that.
I also know that a good open position with some perceived stability will sometimes get a hundred applications in a week's time...
Member Since: Agosto 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Member Since: Julho 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
Quoting Drakoen:


Nope what is it?


Ritter Park is the City park that overlooks Hunting ton. G knob is the highest point. Its really very nice. Affords a good view of the city.
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Hmmmm 1 week of laying on the beach starting Jan 13th ... watching for snow in Florida... life is good :)
Member Since: Outubro 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Happy New Year Everyone! Hey Awake, you want me to try learning Hebrew. Tried it a little, but without the vowels on top, it was too difficult. Hope everyone is recovering from last night! It was a perfect night here is Ft. Lauderdale. The moon was so bright, we didn't have to turn on the lights. They still haven't told us how cold it will be here yet. Probably still don't know.
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Quoting Bordonaro:
tornadodude, how are ya? As a met student, we thought maybe you could tell us how cold it will get in Indiana!


Hey! I'm great, got back from New York last night around 9. took me 15 1/2 hours to go from Albany to Washington, Indiana :P so that was tiring.

and I imagine it will get pretty cold, it is 12 right now :P
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Quoting atmoaggie:
NWS NOLA has our forecast for next Thursday as:

Thursday: A chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 55.


12 Z GFS for 18 Z on Thursday looks nothing like 55 to me, possibly even cold enough for daytime snow in the NOLA metro area, especially to the north:


Looks like they put a lot of faith into the 06 Z GFS solution...possibly too much.


Possibly... these are the Afternoon highs for next week Thursday:

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Quoting Drakoen:
Whatever happens it looks like things will get dramatically colder for an extended period of time.


As i stated last night -2 at 850 that far south is tough to verify, but it's not impossible. We'll probably have some more wind chill advisories over the next week or two. The criteria for that in east central Florida is only 35 with 10 mph winds or greater.We might even see some advection freezes across central Florida, which means freezing temperatures with the wind still blowing, as opposed to radiational cooling freezes where there's a big high centered over us and we drop to 32 due to raditional cooling. Looks like some prefrontal shower activity for us later this afternoon with the cold airmass to follow. Regardless should be an interesting period ahead temperature wise!

adrian

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Quoting PensacolaDoug:



Good Grief Charley Brown!!


#716, 717...ROFLMAO!! Read the posts consecutively...OMG, I'm gonna' get banned...ADMIN I'm innocent!!!
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tornadodude, how are ya? As a met student, we thought maybe you could tell us how cold it will get in Indiana!
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting PensacolaDoug:
Ya been up to "Gobblers Knob" at Ritter Park?


Nope what is it?
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I have been to West Virginia once, had an amazing trip. went camping, rock climbing, and white water rafting (: I went to Fayetteville and went to New River Gorge, it was great!
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Quoting Orcasystems:
717.. that just sounds wrong


It does but thats what the locals call it!
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Quoting Floridano:
Guys, could PBC see any snow next week?

Chance is < 1%
Member Since: Agosto 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting Floridano:
Ya visiting fam up there, Drak?


Yep
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717.. that just sounds wrong
Member Since: Outubro 1, 2007 Posts: 81 Comments: 26511
Quoting AwakeInMaryland:
709. Drakoen 5:21 PM GMT on January 01, 2010
Quoting PensacolaDoug:

I'm from Huntington originally.

That's where I am...lol


Ahhhhhh, another WU "Love Connection"...
Happy New Year, guys!!



Good Grief Charley Brown!!
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Ya been up to "Gobblers Knob" at Ritter Park?
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709. Drakoen 5:21 PM GMT on January 01, 2010
Quoting PensacolaDoug:

I'm from Huntington originally.

That's where I am...lol


Ahhhhhh, another WU "Love Connection"...
Happy New Year, guys!!
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Guys, could PBC see any snow next week?
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Quoting Drakoen:


That's where I am...lol


I know the city pretty well. Been there a bunch when I was a kid.
The home of the "Thundering Herd". My mom graduated from Marshall, 1949 I think.
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Ya visiting fam up there, Drak?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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