Talking Up A Storm

Back to all posts

Was 2011 the Hottest Summer on Record for Georgia?

The U.S. Drought Monitor for the state of Georgia, as of September 6, 2011.

As we begin to enjoy the nice, cool breezes of September, it’s still hard to forget just a few weeks ago, we were sweltering in the 90’s and 100’s. Many people like to compare how hot one summer was to another, so let’s break down the data for this year and see just how darn hot it was this summer!

Before we can make any comparisons, we must define “summer” – after all, it’s difficult to compare an apple to an orange, and there exists two technical definitions for “summer.” The first definition is astronomical, and this definition says that the first day of summer commences with the summer solstice (around June 21st); the season ends just before the autumnal equinox (around September 21st, although this year it occurs on the 23rd). Since the dates change every year for the astronomical beginning and end of summer, it is difficult to compare one year’s set of data to another year’s set of data. Therefore, meteorologists have come up with a slightly different definition: summer begins on June 1st and ends on August 31st. This definition allows meteorologists to have 92 days of “summer” during which they collect data and then compare results.

In addition, meteorologists must somehow quantify a summer’s “average temperature” so that one year’s summer can be compared to other years’ summers. The main method for doing so is to find the “mean,” or average temperature, throughout the entire 92 day season. Meteorologists do this by taking the average of the highest and lowest temperatures of each day for 92 days, and then computing the “average mean temperature” during the 92 days. Here’s an example: let’s say that the high temperature for June 1st was 90 degrees, and its overnight low was 70 degrees. The math would look like this: (90 + 70)/2 = 80, so the average temperature for June 1st would be 80 degrees. If you repeated this exercise throughout the summer, for 92 days, you would get 92 different average temperatures. Add these numbers together, divide the sum by 92, and the result would be the average temperature from June 1st through August 31st.

According to former State Climatologist David Stooksbury, Atlanta experienced its third-warmest summer on record in 2011, with an average temperature of 82.3 °F (which is 3.6 °F above average). The warmest summer occurred in 1980, with an average temperature of 82.7 °F. This year sure was close, though! The difference between first place (1980) and 2011 is 0.4 of a degree!! In addition, Atlanta experienced 80 days (out of 92) in which the temperature registered 90 °F or more. Finally, Atlanta received 6.38 inches of rain, which is 6.04 inches below normal, making 2011 the 9th driest summer for this city.

In Athens, 2011 was officially named the warmest summer on record – the average temperature was 82.2 °F, which is 4.1 °F above average. The previous record was set in 1931, during which the average temperature was 82 °F. In addition, Athens experienced 85 days (out of 92) in which the temperature reached 90 °F or more – the city also experienced 6 days in which the temperature reached 100 °F or more. Athens collected 6.34 inches of rain this summer, which is 5.79 inches below normal, making 2011 the 8th driest summer on record.

In Columbus, 2011 was officially named the warmest summer on record – the average temperature was 84.6 °F, which is 3.8 °F above average. The previous record was set last year in 2010, during which the average temperature was 84.4 °F. In addition, Columbus experienced 86 days (out of 92) in which the temperature reached 90 °F or more – the city also experienced 8 days in which the temperature reached 100 °F or more. Columbus received 11.68 inches of rain this summer, which is 0.65 inches below normal, making 2011 the 26th driest summer on record. Columbus was lucky in that it received a nearly normal amount of rainfall this summer.

In Macon, 2011 was the second-warmest summer on record – the average temperature was 83.4 °F, which is 3.8 °F above average. The warmest summer in Macon occurred in 1954, during which the average temperature was 83.5°F. In addition, Macon experienced 88 days (out of 92) in which the temperature reached 90 °F or more – the city also experienced 7 days in which the temperature reached 100 °F or more. Despite being the second-warmest summer on record, I think it’s amazing that Macon’s daytime high temperatures dropped below 90 F only four times during the season! Rain brought some relief to the town, though: Macon collected 8.33 inches of rain this summer, which is 3.32 inches below normal, making 2011 the 11th driest summer on record.

In Savannah, 2011 was officially named the warmest summer on record – the average temperature was 84.0 °F, which is 3.4 °F above average. The previous record was set last year in 2010, during which the average temperature was 83.9 °F. In addition, Savannah experienced 88 days (out of 92) in which the temperature reached 90 °F or more – the city also experienced 5 days in which the temperature reached 100 °F or more. Savannah received 13.77 inches of rain this summer, which is 4.77 inches below normal, making 2011 the 22nd driest summer on record. If I lived in Savannah, I think I would have driven to Tybee Island everyday to cool off at the beach!

Dr. Stooksbury’s report on the Summer of 2011 can be found here. You can also find archived monthly climate data from the National Weather Service. The following links will take you to the appropriate pages for various cities within the state: NWS in Peachtree City for Atlanta, Athens, Columbus, and Macon; NWS in Charleston, South Carolina for Savannah; NWS in Jacksonville, Florida for Alma and Brunswick; NWS in Columbia, South Carolina for Augusta; and NWS in Tallahassee, Florida for Valdosta. For each site, select “Preliminary Monthly Climate Data”, then select the city of interest, then select which month of archived data you would like to view. A window will pop up, detailing all of the weather data for that month.

I certainly hope you were able to stay cool during one of the hottest summers on record! How did you survive the heat? My favorite way to cool off is to hang out in the pool – I’m always up for a game of sharks and minnows!

The First Day of Fall kicks off on Friday, September 23rd. In addition to football and Oktoberfest, Fall is also associated with frosts/freezes and a heightened amount of severe weather during “Dixie Alley season.” September is also Preparedness Month, so be sure to double check your emergency kits and review with your family any necessary emergency action plans. Remember, the time to prepare before an emergency is before the emergency!

In the meantime, stay safe and happy storm spotting!