Looking back at 2020’s weather events

Published 10:50 pm Saturday, December 25, 2021

By Skip Rigney

A tornado and a hurricane top the list of memorable local weather events in Pearl River County for 2021.

The biggest regional weather story of 2021 was Hurricane Ida, which devastated parts of Louisiana south and west of New Orleans on August 29th. Pearl River County received a glancing blow from the storm. Most locations saw wind gusts between 40 and 65 mph.

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Two months later a tornado blew down trees and damaged some homes when it touched down in Picayune on the evening of October 27th. Meteorologists from the National Weather Service in Slidell surveyed the damage and estimated the twister’s winds reached 110 mph.

After December ends next week, it will take NOAA climatologists a few more weeks to calculate the official climate numbers for 2021, but the most noteworthy aspects of the year’s statistics for our area are already evident.

Even with a drier-than-average November, this will likely end up being the wettest year on record averaged across Mississippi’s six southernmost counties, which includes Pearl River.

This area is designated the state’s Coastal Climate Division.

The average annual rainfall for the Coastal Climate Division is about 60 inches based on data from the past 124 years. So far in 2021, the spatial average for the Coastal Division is 93 inches. That’s according to Iowa State University’s Environmental Mesonet (IEM) project, which compiles weather and climate data from a variety of sources.

Multiple rain gauges in Hancock County have collected an incredible 110 to 120 inches in 2021. That’s the most in the continental United States, except for a few locations in the Pacific Northwest.

In Pearl River County, totals so far in 2021 generally have been in the 80 to 100 inch range based on rain gauge observations and estimates from the National Weather Service’s Slidell radar.

Less rain has fallen near Walkiah Bluff, Henleyfield, and the northwest quarter of the county. The 70 to 80 inch totals there are still 25 to 50 percent wetter-than-normal.

The second statistical headline for the year is that our nights and early mornings have averaged considerably warmer than normal. Keep in mind what “average” means. There were about 140 mornings during the year that were colder than normal in our county.

The coldest example was on February 16th when the 22 degree minimum at the Poplarville Experiment Station was 23 degrees below normal.

But there have been over 200 days with low temperatures above the climatic average. The average low temperature for the year of about 58 degrees for the Coastal Climate Division is in the warmest 20 percent of years since 1895.

Despite a few cold days earlier this week, December is heavily contributing to the year’s warmth. The upcoming week is forecast to help this month rank as one of, if not the warmest December on record, not only in Pearl River County, but across much of the central and eastern United States.

The persistent atmospheric flow pattern that has kept the coldest air bottled up in the polar north is most likely due to abnormally cool sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a condition known as La Nina, and a strong low pressure system high in the stratosphere above the Arctic known as the polar vortex.