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Weather History: May 31: Record temps, storms, tornadoes, flooding, wind & snow

Listed are Meteorological events that happened on May 31st:


A tornado with a 400 yard wide track swept through Shelbyville, KY. The tornado, which killed many people, was described in the "American Journal of Science".


A tornado moved across Warren County and devastated the town of Ellison, IL about 14 miles southwest of Monmouth. Only 3 cabins were left standing. 19 people were killed, and 60 injured, along the tornado's 5 mile long track.


One of the greatest weather related disasters in United States history occurred in Johnstown, PA. Heavy rains of 4 to 10 inches in 36 hours caused the dam at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club 14 miles away and 450 feet above Johnstown in Cambria County to burst, sending a wall of water 75 feet high and one half mile wide down the Little Conemaugh River. The entire lake emptied into the valley of the river in just 36 minutes, flowing with the force of Niagara Falls. There were warnings during the day by telegraph, but most people in Johnstown believed that the dam couldn't fail. The huge wave of water and debris smashed into Johnstown destroying most of the town as well as its neighboring communities. The center of town was wiped away. Survivors reported seeing a 35-foot wall of what appeared to them as debris, including uprooted trees, houses, train cars, animals and people crashing toward them. Much of the debris was trapped behind a stone bridge, which dammed the water into a lake 30 feet deep where much of the town had been. By nightfall, the debris would catch fire, and would claim as many as 80 more victims who were trapped in the heap of rubbish and burned alive. The story of the disaster was flashed around the country. The nation poured its heart out to the victims of the Johnstown flood, sending money, relief supplies and volunteers to the stricken area. Clara Barton and her newly formed Red Cross organization were instrumental in restoring the necessities of life to victims of the disaster. More than 2,200 people died in the disaster. Bodies were still being uncovered as late as 1906. The 1889 flood led to vastly improved flood control and warning systems, but Johnstown would once again fall victim to a disastrous flood in 1977, when 77 people were killed.


Fresno and Bakersfield, CA hit 110°; the earliest 110 degree reading on record and a record high for the month of May. Lemon Cove, CA soared to 118°, their highest May temperature.


Violent Derby Day thunderstorms killed four horses on Epsom Downs in Southeastern England. Local flooding, landslides, lightning, and wind gusts caused damage across lowland England. 17 people are killed in the London area.


Springtime of 1927 saw 18.64 inches of rain fall in the Peoria, IL area. This established their wettest Meteorological Spring (March, April, May period) on record.


Early season heat gripped central Illinois. Springfield reported its earliest triple-digit high temperature on record, with a temperature of 101°.


Burlington, KS recorded 12.59 inches of rain in 24 hours to set the state record.


Unseasonal late season snow fell across parts of the northern Rockies. Snowfall totals included: Mystic Lake, MT: 7 inches, Red Lodge, MT: 6 inches, Pryor, MT: 5 inches, Billings, MT: 4 inches. At Red Lodge, MT 15 inches of snow fell from this date through June 2nd; 3 inches of snow fell at Sheridan and Wyola, WY on June 1st.


Sioux Falls, SD recorded their latest snowfall on this date when a half inch was reported.


A late freeze did severe damage to crops across parts of New England. This was the latest freeze on record for the suburbs of Boston, MA. The temperature in Burlington, VT dropped to 25°.


A 7.7 magnitude earthquake just off the coast of Peru triggered the most catastrophic avalanche in history. The initial avalanche became a tremendous landslide traveling at over 100 mph. The landslide fell nearly vertically into the valley and villages below Mount Huascaran. It took less than three minutes for the landslide to reach the town of Yongui, where 20,000 people died, entombed in ice, snow and rock. It flowed on like a river to bury another village. A total of 66,000 people died in the disaster.


Canada's sunniest month ended as Eureka in the Northwest Territories recorded 621 hours of sunshine.


It was the wettest May ever for parts of northern Texas and Oklahoma. Wichita Falls, TX established record with 13.22 inches. Oklahoma City, OK recorded 12.07 inches for the month to set a record.

May 1982 established the record for number of U.S. tornadoes in any month with 365. The record would be broken in 1995 and again in 2003, each time in May.


Albany, NY experienced its wettest spring season in 109 years of records with 19.54 inches while Philadelphia, PA also had their wettest spring with 21.85 inches of precipitation.


A vicious tornado outbreak struck southern Ontario, central and eastern Ohio, western and central Pennsylvania, and western New York. 42 tornadoes ripped through the area. 88 people were killed and total damage was over $200 million dollars. Eight of the tornadoes were rated F4 on the Fujita scale. The tornado that devastated Niles, OH was classified as an F5. A huge F4 tornado had a 69 mile path length in central Pennsylvania, mostly through Moshannon State Forest. An estimated 88,000 trees were destroyed as the tornado's path width reached 2.2 miles at one point.

The same storms system was responsible for a swarm of tornadoes that left 8 people dead, 155 injured and $100 million in damage at Barrie, Ontario Canada. This tornado also had a 124 mile long track, the longest on record in Canada. Tornadoes were also reported in Grand Valley, Orangeville and Tottenham in central Ontario killing 3 people. 13 tornadoes were reported over Ontario on this day.

A dust storm occurred across the northern quarter of Illinois. Winds during the storm were 30 to 50 mph, with some gusts to 70 mph. Visibility in towns and cities was between 1 and 5 miles, but outlying areas near farm fields had local visibility less than 20 feet. Numerous accidents were caused by the low visibility, with one person killed and 22 injured. Soil erosion losses were estimated around $3 million dollars.


The Weather Service Office in Washington, DC reported its driest spring on record with only 3.47 inches of precipitation from March 1st to May 31st.


Thunderstorms in New England produced wind gusts up to 90 mph at Worcester and Northboro, MA, and hail 1.5 inches in diameter at Williston, VT.

Unseasonably hot weather prevailed in the northeastern U.S. The afternoon high of 94° at Portland, ME was a record for the month of May.


Hot and humid weather prevailed in the eastern U.S. Several cities reported record high temperatures for the date. Cape Hatteras, NC reported their first 90 degree day in May in 115 years of records.

Thunderstorms in northwest Texas drenched Amarillo with more than 3 inches of rain to ease drought conditions.


Thunderstorms produced severe weather and torrential rains in northern Indiana, northern Ohio and southern Lower Michigan. Saint John, IN was drenched with 4 inches of rain in two hours, and Woodland, MI was deluged with two inches in 20 minutes. Pittsburgh, PA reported a record 6.55 inches of rain for the month of May, with measurable rain reported on 25 days during the month.


Afternoon and evening thunderstorms developing along a warm front produced severe weather from northwest Texas to southeastern Louisiana. The thunderstorms spawned 16 tornadoes, including 13 in northwest Texas. One tornado hit the town of Spearman, TX causing more than a million dollars damage, and 7 other tornadoes were reported within 25 miles of Spearman. Thunderstorms over northwest Texas also produced baseball size hail at Monahans, and wind gusts to 80 mph at Paducah.

187 homes and buildings were flooded in Warren County, Mississippi after nearly 7 inches of rain fell in 12 hours. Total damage was estimated at $6 million dollars.


Norfolk, VA hit 100° setting a new all-time record high for the month of May and Philadelphia, PA hit 97° tying their May record high set the previous day.

This was the warmest May on record in Washington, D.C. The city also observed a record 11 days of 90-degree heat.

Severe Thunderstorms struck eight counties across central Florida. Hail from nickle up to golfball size was reported in Pinellas, Putnam, Citrus, Marion, and Brevard counties.

The largest hail was in Putnam County where it broke windows and tree limbs. Severe thunderstorm winds were reported in Sumter, Citrus, Marion, Levy, Alachua and Putnam Counties. Winds destroyed a carport and blew down trees and power lines in Sumter County and many trees and power lines were blown down in the other counties. A firefighter was injured by lightning at Largo in Pinellas County.


This May was the driest on record for Chicago, IL and Rockford, IL. Only 0.30 inches of rain fell at Chicago and Rockford had a paltry 0.48 inches.

The total rainfall at El Paso, TX of this past month was 4.22 inches, making this the wettest May ever for the city. The normal rainfall for May is only 0.24 inches, which means that this month's rainfall total was 1,758% of normal.


May of 1993 was very wet across the state of Iowa, which was just of prelude of flooding to come in the summer of 1993. Statewide, rain was recorded somewhere in Iowa on 26 of the 31 days in the month and statewide precipitation averaged 5.68 inches or 143% of normal. Flood warnings were issued for the Rock River and the upper portion of the Des Moines River in northwest Iowa during the second week of May. A record crest occurred on the Rock River at Rock Rapids measuring 12.53 feet, which was 6 feet above flood stage. Damage in Lyon County alone was near $2 million dollars and the city of Rock Rapids had 56 houses damaged.


The U.S. set a new monthly tornado record in May, 1995 with 408 twisters reported. The record would be surpassed in the busy month of May 2003, when over 500 twisters were reported.


Mount Washington, NH recorded 95.8 inches of snow for the month which exceeded the previous May snowfall record by 43.6 inches.


During the early morning hours, a derecho struck southeast Michigan across the Saginaw Valley, Thumb and Flint areas. Wind gusts reached 70 to 120 mph which resulted in two deaths, two injuries and widespread damage. Thousands of trees are knocked down and hundreds of homes and businesses suffer damage. Sections of the state are declared a major disaster area and thousands are without power, some for several days. The storm had formed over Wisconsin late the previous night where damage totaled about $60 million dollars to property and $1.82 million dollars to crops.

During the afternoon, lines of severe thunderstorms formed and moved rapidly east across New York and Western New England. Several of these storms became tornadic over Saratoga, Albany, Rensselaer, and Washington counties in New York and Bennington County in Vermont. Straight-line winds in excess of 60 mph caused damage occurred across a wide area. Cloud to ground lightning rates over the region reached 15,000 strikes per hour, rates not observed before over this region. Lightning hit a car traveling on the New York State Thruway--traveled through the car to a door handle--burning the arm of 16 year old female passenger. Lightning throughout the area shattered trees and set a number of fires. At Locust Hill Country Club, the nationally televised Ladies Pro Golf Association tournament was delayed four times by the storms. There were reports of numerous trees and wires down as well as power outages. Tens of thousands were without power. In Niagara and Orleans counties, about 50% of the apple crop was damaged by the pelting hail stones. Top wind gusts included: 79 mph at Hamlin, NY, 77 mph at Ontario, NY and 70 mph at Buffalo, NY.

These storms resulted 68 injuries but no fatalities, tens of millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses, and extensive forest damage. An F3 tornado moved through the northern section of Lyons in Berks County, Pennsylvania causing much damage, but only a few injuries and no fatalities. Worcester, MA reported a downburst wind gust of 94 mph.

Fresno, CA reached a high of only 85° and at Bakersfield, CA the high reached 84°. This was the warmest reading of the month at both locations and only the third May on record in both cities that the high temperature never cracked 90 degrees (also occurred in May 1917 and 1961).


Death Valley National Park recorded a high temperature of 118°, setting a daily record.

Fresno, CA reached 106°, marking the 9th time this month the high reached into the triple digits. This set a record for the most triple digit high temperatures in May. Further south, Palomar Mountain, CA set their all-time May high temperature record with 91° and Idyllwild, CA tied their high temperature for May with 93° (5/29/1984).


Birmingham, AL recorded 17.23 inches of rain during the month to establish a new rainfall record for the month of May. It also was the third wettest month ever in the Magic City. Amazingly, the month came very close to being the all-time wettest month ever there, eclipsed only by July 1916 when a dying tropical storm hovered over Alabama, dumping 20.12 inches of rain on the city.

543 tornadoes were recorded in the U.S. for May, 2003; by far the most tornadoes ever recorded in a single month. May of 2003 was an unusual year for tornadoes in the central United States, as most outbreaks occurred during the first two weeks of the month. A record breaking 384 tornado's occurred in 19 states during these first two weeks, which resulted in 42 fatalities.


For the first time since official records began, no tornados were reported anywhere in Oklahoma for May 2005. This was unusual because May typically marks the peak of tornado season for the state, with an average of 21 tornados for the month.


During the evening a tornado occurred over rural central Oklahoma. Touching down about 8 miles outside of Reno, OK, the tornado spinning mainly over open country grew more intense. At one point, it was 2.6 miles wide as it crossed highway 81. Many chasers were caught off-guard of the growing intensity. Three storm chasers were killed and a few others sustained injuries and/or vehicle damage; including Reed Timmer and Mike Bettes from The Weather Channel. The actions of the storms chasers drew criticism from fello Meteorologists on how close crews should follow. Overall, eight people died and over 150 were injured. Originally rated an EF-5, despite a mobile Doppler recording winds of close to 300 mph, the National Weather Service reassessed the rating to an EF-3.


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