Maryland weather in 2016: Snowstorm, flooding, drought

In 2016, Maryland faced a record snowstorm, deadly flood and moderate drought.

2016 brought some of the heaviest precipitation the Baltimore region has ever seen, but it's ending with a drought.

First, a late-January snowstorm surpassed all others in the record book. In July, a near-record flood roared down Main Street in Ellicott City, claiming two lives and destroying several businesses.

But by mid-November, moderate drought was developing across the western half of the state. The year could end up as one of Baltimore's driest of the past decade.

And in a year that is all but certain to set another new mark for global warmth, local temperatures hit triple digits for the first time in four years. 2016 could be among Baltimore's 25 warmest years on record.

As 2015 was ending, meteorologists said that one of the strongest El Nino climate patterns ever observed could produce a whopper of a snowstorm for the eastern United States in the coming months. As January came to a close, the warnings proved prescient.

El Nino is known for sending moisture streaming across the southern tier of the United States, and often it has little bearing on Maryland weather. But when an area of high pressure settles over the northern Atlantic Ocean — as it did in late January — the El Nino precipitation can flow up the coast, where it meets cold air and more moisture from the Atlantic.

The storm that hit Jan. 22 dumped 29.2 inches of snow at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the region's point of record. It was Baltimore's biggest single snowfall on record. (Back-to-back February 2010 storms dropped a combined 44.5 inches of snow, but came several days apart and are counted separately.)

The highest snowfall totals were recorded in Virginia and West Virginia, with as much as 40 inches measured, and at least 12 people died from there to New York. One person died of a heart attack while shoveling snow in Abingdon, and the weight of snow collapsed roofs of a warehouse in Jessup and a supermarket in Bel Air.

The federal government is paying Maryland more than $25 million to cover emergency work and repair costs associated with the snowfall.

The storm accounted for the bulk of the year's snowfall — only about 5 inches fell in February and March.

Historic flooding

Thunderstorms pounded the region with heavy rain the night of July 30, and the heaviest downpour hit an area whose vulnerability to flooding is well known — historic Ellicott City.

A total of 61/2 inches of rain inundated the old mill town in a span of about two hours, including 41/2 inches from 7:30 to 8:30 that Saturday night, as residents dined and shopped on Main Street.

Water poured down the steep hills that surround the downtown area, rising and coursing so quickly it destroyed buildings, swept away vehicles and carried two people to their deaths. Their bodies were found two miles away in the Patapsco River.

The river rose 14 feet in less than two hours. The flood was about 3 feet higher than the last major deluge to strike Ellicott City, in 2011.

Much like during the winter snowstorm, meteorologists said the summer storm brought precipitation with unusual intensity. While most parts of the region saw a single 30- or 45-minute burst of heavy rain, bands of the most severe rainfall repeatedly formed over Ellicott City, National Weather Service meteorologists said.

Based on records for a rain gauge a few miles from Ellicott City, there was a less than 0.1 percent chance of such intense rainfall happening in any given year — making it a once-in-a-millennium storm.

Otherwise warm, dry

Globally, 2016 is all but sure to set a new record for average temperatures — surpassing 2015 and 2014, which will rank second and third, respectively, in a 137-year-old record book.

Locally, it is expected to end up warmer and drier than normal.

The year will likely end up averaging about 57 degrees at BWI, which would make it Baltimore's warmest year since 2011. It included some of the most intense summer heat in years — temperatures hit 100 degrees at BWI July 25, the first triple-digit reading there since July 18, 2012.

And after the extreme snowfall and rainfall earlier in the year, 2016 is ending with a dry stretch that has created the first widespread drought conditions in the state since 2012. Fewer than 21/2 inches of rain fell during October and November, prompting the U.S. Drought Monitor in mid-November to declare all of Central Maryland in a "moderate" drought.

It could be the fifth time this century that Baltimore doesn't record at least 40 inches of precipitation. Normal precipitation here is about 42 inches.

sdance@baltsun.com

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