Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Summer Officially Begins With Extreme Weather Across the US While Tropical Storm Bret Becomes Second Named Storm of the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season


Throughout the past two weeks, the Southeast region of the United States (US) has experienced extreme weather and tornadoes. Last week, over 800 reports of severe weather were recorded in a two-day span, including thunderstorms over North Texas, Oklahoma, the lower Mississippi Valley, and portions of the Southeast. On Wednesday, June 14, an outbreak of severe thunderstorms with destructive winds, large hail, and strong tornadoes erupted across portions of the Southeast. The storms produced large hail the size of softballs and wind gusts over 80 miles per hour (mph), spawning several tornadoes in southeast Alabama, southern Georgia, and one in northeast Texas. On Thursday, June 15, destructive tornadoes struck Perryton, Texas, causing at least three fatalities and 75 injuries. By Thursday night, June 15, this same storm system was traveling southeast across Oklahoma at 50 mph, producing thunderstorm warnings in Oklahoma City and tornado watches for central and western Oklahoma. The tornado watch was lifted later in the evening and replaced by a severe thunderstorm watch. The ongoing severe weather stems from a strong jet stream more typical of weather characteristics seen in April than in June. The extreme heat and humidity that have produced heat indexes of 115 degrees in South Texas continue to feed the severity of storms across the region.

Twitter: Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA)

Sizable portions of the Southern US have also experienced an early-season heat wave with record-high temperatures in the triple digits combined with high humidity, resulting in dangerous conditions for residents of the impacted areas. Most notably, portions of Texas and Louisiana have endured the brunt of the extreme heat, with the heat index in some locations exceeding 120 degrees, breaking heat records in Texas during the latter half of last week. Over the weekend, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued Heat Advisories and Excessive Heat Warnings to over 40 million people, and many of those alerts have continued into the early part of this week as areas across the South and West experience temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above normal. The NWS Weather Prediction Center (WPC) Short Range Forecast from Wednesday, June 21, through Friday, June 23, forecasts an expansion of the heat wave across Texas, including daytime temperature highs in the 100s and 110s and overnight lows in the 70s and 80s, creating “oppressive outdoor conditions.”

Twitter: NWS WPC

The impact of the dangerously high temperatures is projected to be widespread. The NWS warns that these extreme conditions can “significantly increase the potential for heat-related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities.” In response, cities including Houston and New Orleans have opened cooling centers and additional hydration centers and have advised the public to stay indoors, wear loose-fitting clothes, and keep hydrated. On Tuesday, Texas’ grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), requested residents to voluntarily reduce air conditioning and appliance use to conserve energy and avoid potential controlled outages and blackouts. The extreme heat and severe weather have also forced building closures, including two dozen state offices in Louisiana as a precautionary measure in anticipation of weather risks, as well as schools in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, who cited safety concerns with staying open during the heat earlier in the month of June.

Tropical Storm Bret

Three weeks into the Atlantic hurricane season, Tropical Storm Bret formed as a tropical depression on Monday, June 19, and was escalated to Tropical Storm Bret later that day. Tropical Storm Bret is no longer predicted to form a hurricane but is forecasted to continue west and impact the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean on Thursday, June 22. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a tropical storm warning for the island of St. Lucia and tropical storm watches for Barbados, Dominica, and Martinique. While not as intense as a hurricane, the NHC warns that a tropical storm can still bring a risk of heavy rainfall, flooding, high winds, and dangerous waves. This is the third tropical depression of 2023 and the second named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1 and continues until November 30. The first storm, Tropical Storm Arlene, formed on June 2, only two days into the Atlantic hurricane season.

El Niño

According to the NWS CPC, El Niño has returned for the first time in four years. Weak El Niño conditions emerged in May and are predicted to strengthen gradually into the Northern Hemisphere winter in 2023-2024. An El Niño is part of a naturally occurring climate pattern called El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and occurs irregularly, so no two occurrences are exactly alike. An El Niño refers to the warning or above average temperatures of the ocean surface in the central or eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The low-level “easterly winds,” which normally blow from east to west, weaken or, in some cases, change directions entirely to “westerly winds.” This change in direction and temperature can disrupt normal weather patterns around the globe. According to NOAA, there is an 84 percent chance of a greater than moderate strength El Niño and a 56 percent chance of a strong El Niño developing, which will primarily impact North America during the fall and winter.

El Niños typically result in the possibility of wetter-than-average conditions from southern California to the Gulf Coast, drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley, and warmer-than-average temperatures across the north. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), global temperatures are likely to rise rapidly in the next five years, in part due to this El Niño event as well as heat-trapping greenhouse gases. In the past, El Niños have exacerbated global temperatures, but due to the variability of El Niños and their effects, as well as broad-scale changes due to climate change, the specific impacts of this El Niño are currently unknown. In May, NOAA released its 2023 Atlantic hurricane season predictions and estimated the 2023 season to be a near-normal hurricane season. This is, in part, due to the presence of El Niño, which can suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. However, the presence of an El Niño can also favor strong hurricane activity in the central and eastern Pacific regions.

Twitter: NWS WPC

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urges individuals to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against extreme weather events. An essential preparedness measure is to sign up in advance for your community’s emergency alerts and warnings and to pay close attention to local weather reports for real-time conditions. Ready.gov provides information on how to prepare for, survive during, and be safe after various extreme weather events. Additionally, it is important to pay close attention to local weather reports, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), and the NOAA Weather Radio for the latest warnings, watches, and advisories and to seek shelter immediately when instructed to do so. Additionally, FEMA urges individuals living in areas impacted by extreme heat to take necessary safety measures in preparation for and during heat waves. FEMA recommends equipping your residence or business with proper insulation, air conditioners, coverings, and reflectors on windows to keep cool. Many communities stand up free, public cooling centers, the locations of which are shared via local news outlets or can be accessed by contacting your local health department or 2-1-1 resource.