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Record heat across the Carolinas

August 2007

Patrick D. Moore
NOAA/National Weather Service
Greer, SC

Lake Hartwell 12 September 2007.  Image by Vince DiCarlo, NWS

By late summer, Lake Hartwell showed the cumulative effect of an extreme drought. The drought conditions had a significant impact on temperatures during August.

Author's Note: The following report has not been subjected to the scientific peer review process.

The month of August, 2007, was the warmest August on record
across the western Carolinas.  All three first-order stations
(Asheville, Charlotte, and the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan
area) broke the previous records for highest average temperature
for the month of August.  In fact, it was the warmest month ever 
recorded at Greenville-Spartanburg, where daily temperature records 
date back to the Autumn of 1917.  It was the third warmest month ever 
at Charlotte, where daily temperature records date back to 1878.
(Click here for a monthly summary of temperature records)
Broken Temperature Records
Here is how August 2007 stacked up against previous years in terms
of record monthly average temperature.
Location  New Record  Old Record 
Greenville - Spartanburg Airport 
81.6 (1954) 
Charlotte - Douglas International 
81.9 (1900) 
Asheville Regional Airport 
76.5 (1983) 
The new record at Greenville - Spartanburg was remarkable in that
it was the warmest month ever, surpassing the old record of 83.2 
degrees set back in July of 1993.
Numerous daily high temperature records were tied or broken at each 
Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport
Date  New Record  Old Record 
99 (1935) 
98 (1951) 
98 (1980) 
98 (1956) 
99 (1999) 
100 (1995) 
100 (1954) 
100 (1954) 
102 (1983) 
The 105 degree reading on Friday, 10 August, broke the all-time high 
temperature record for the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area.  
The old record was 104 degrees, which had been set on three separate 
occasions:  29 July 1952, 27 June 1954, and 31 July 1999.  In addition,
the period from the 7th through the 11th tied the longest streak of 
consecutive days with a high temperature 100 degrees and above, last 
set on 28 June 1952.  The high temperature also reached 102 degrees 
on 22 August.  Although this was not a record, it was the tenth day 
in the month where the temperature reached at least 100 degrees, which 
shattered the previous monthly record of five days set back in June 
and July of 1952.  The ten days so far this year tied the previous 
record of ten 100 degree plus days set back in the Summer of 1952.  
Since records began back in 1917, there have been only 86 days where 
the temperature reached at least 100 degrees including this year, 
which means that over 10% of the 100 degree days occurred this past 
The 2007 summer season, defined as the months of June, July, and 
August, was the third warmest on record at Greenville - Spartanburg,
with an average temperature of 79.9 degrees.  This was remarkable 
considering that July was below normal.  The mean daily temperature
showed a dramatic increase during the first week of August (Fig. 1).
The seven day period beginning 4 August was a particularly brutal
stretch, including the five consecutive days of high temperatures 
at or above 100 degrees (Fig. 2).
Daily mean temperature at GSP
Figure 1.  Daily mean temperature at the Greenville-Spartanburg 
Airport for the period 9 June to 7 September 2007. Click on 
image to enlarge.
Daily high temperature at GSP
Figure 2.  Daily high temperature at the Greenville-Spartanburg 
Airport for the period 9 June to 7 September 2007. Click on 
image to enlarge.
Charlotte - Douglas International Airport
Date  New Record  Old Record 
101 (1951) 
100 (1951) 
100 (1956) 
101 (1983) 
The 104 degree temperatures on the 9th and 10th broke the previous 
record high temperature for August, which was 103 degrees, and tied 
the all-time high temperature last set on 6 September 1954.  The 
temperature surpassed 100 degrees on the 16th and 21st as well.  
The six days of high temperatures at least 100 degrees broke the 
old record for the month of four, set back in 1954 and 1983.  The 
high temperature was above 90 degrees every day at the Charlotte - 
Douglas International Airport (Fig. 3).  In addition, it was the 
driest August on record.  Only 0.41 inches of rain fell, which was 
less than the old record of 0.61 inches back in 1972 (Fig. 4).
Daily maximum temperature at Charlotte
Figure 3.  Daily maximum temperature at the Charlotte - Douglas 
International Airport for the period 9 June to 7 September 2007. 
Click on image to enlarge.
Daily precipitation at Charlotte
Figure 4.  Daily precipitation at the Charlotte - Douglas International 
Airport for the period 9 June to 7 September 2007. Click on image to 
Asheville Regional Airport
Date  New Record  Old Record 
93 (1983) 
93 (1995) 
93 (1995) 
The temperature reached 90 degrees or greater for 16 consecutive 
days at the Asheville Regional Airport, which was the longest streak 
since 1993.
The making of a heat wave
Several factors contributed to the hot temperatures in August 2007, 
not the least of which was a long term (and ongoing) extreme to 
exceptional drought across much of the Southeast (Fig. 5), which 
began in earnest across the western Carolinas in January.  Through the 
end of August, large portions of the Southeast had yearly rainfall 
deficits on the order of 12 to 18 inches (Fig. 6), which was only 
about 50% to 70% of normal (Fig. 7).  In fact, the Southeast Region 
had the driest 8 month period on record (Fig. 8).
U.S. Drought Conditions as of 28 August 2007
Figure 5.  U.S. Drought Severity as of 28 August 2007. Click on 
image to enlarge.
Yearly accumulated precipitation departure from normal August 2007
Figure 6.  Accumulated precipitation departure from normal for the 
period 1 January to 31 August 2007. Click on image to enlarge.
Yearly percent of average precipitation through August 2007
Figure 7.  Percent of average precipitation from 1 January through 
the end of August 2007. Click on image to enlarge.
January-August precipitation across the Southeast Region 1895-2007
Figure 8.  Precipitation for the January-August period, 1895 to 2007. 
Click on image to enlarge.
A long term drought has severe consequences for soil moisture.  By the 
end of August, most of the area from the Piedmont of the Carolinas to 
the southern Appalachians ranked near the first percentile in terms of 
soil moisture ranking (Fig. 9).  This can be interpreted as soil 
conditions being almost as dry as they have ever been. 
Soil moisture ranking percentile as of 31 August 2007
Figure 9.  Soil moisture percentile ranking as of 31 August 2007.  
Note the large area with a ranking of '1' or less across the Southeast.
A portion of the energy from the sun is used to evaporate moisture 
from the top of the soil.  This energy is converted into latent heat, 
which means it is stored in the water vapor and will be released later 
when the vapor condenses back into water droplets.  As soil moisture 
drops, there is less moisture available to "use up" energy through 
evaporation.  Furthermore, there is less water available for plants 
to use which leads to less transpiration.  The result is that more 
of the sun's energy is used to heat up the air, so temperatures tend 
to be warmer.  In other words, given the same atmospheric conditions 
and sunlight, the air will be hotter over a very dry soil and 
relatively cooler over a wet soil.
By late July, soil moisture conditions were perfect for a heat wave 
as soon as the weather pattern supported excessive heat.  This finally
happened in the first few days of August, when a large upper ridge of 
high pressure centered over the southern Plains drifted eastward over 
the Southeast.  By the morning of 7 August, an upper anticyclone at 
500 mb was centered over Georgia.  For the next few days, the upper 
air pattern featured a persistent anticyclone over the Southeast, 
until it finally moved back west to the southern Plains on 11 August.  
The upper ridge acted to suppress the development of showers and 
thunderstorms during this period.  At 850 mb, a high pressure ridge 
moved over the Deep South on 5 August and persisted through 10 August.
The west to northwest wind at this level resulted in a downslope flow
east of the mountains, which warmed low levels by adiabatic compression.  
Furthermore, the prevailing wind acted to cut off the western 
Carolinas from any moisture sources.

Click here to view a 20 frame loop of 500 mb geopotential height 
from 0000 UTC 3 August to 1200 UTC 12 August.

Click here to view a 20 frame loop of 850 mb geopotential height 
from 0000 UTC 3 August to 1200 UTC 12 August.
Given the lack of soil moisture, there was not enough moisture in 
the lower atmosphere to support anything more than isolated showers 
through 10 August.  An upper air sounding taken at Greensboro, North 
Carolina, in the evening of 9 August showed this best (Fig. 10).  
Although surface temperatures were in the upper 90s at the time, the 
atmosphere was only weakly unstable because of the lack of moisture.
GSO sounding 0000 UTC 9 August
Figure 10.  Skew T - log P diagram for the upper air sounding taken 
at Greensboro, North Carolina, at 8 pm on 9 August. The red line
is the temperature sounding and the green line is the dew point
sounding.  Winds aloft are shown as brown barbs on the right
side of the figure.  A table of convective parameters is shown
on the right. Click on image to enlarge.
Discussion and Summary 
Given the long term and worsening drought during the first part 
of the Summer, it should come as no surprise that temperatures
would be above normal as the season progressed, given a weather
pattern that encouraged sunshine and discouraged the development
of showers and thunderstorms.  Extreme drought conditions favor
excessive heat.  The astute reader might also make a connection
between some of the other dry years in Figure 8, and some of the
previous high temperature records across the Piedmont, especially
those set in 1954.
In an extreme drought, there is less water available for evaporation,
which does not allow the lowest part of the atmosphere to become as 
humid as it typically would be if soil moisture was normal.  The 
result is a more stable atmosphere, which can lead to a decrease 
in shower and thunderstorm activity in the absence of any cold front 
passages.  This in turn means less rainfall.  In that respect, it 
can be argued that drought begets more dry weather.  Until a 
significant shift happens in an overall weather pattern, or the
arrival of some larger, synoptically driven low pressure system such
as the remnants of a tropical cyclone, a drought will tend to 
perpetuate itself.
As of early September, the prospects for a quick end to the drought
do not appear encouraging.  It is estimated that somewhere between 
12 to 18 inches of rain is needed to end the drought by the onset 
of Winter (Fig. 11).  The most recent seasonal drought outlook calls
for only limited improvement across the western Carolinas and 
northeast Georgia (Fig. 12).
Amount of rainfall needed to end the drought as of 8 September 2007
Figure 11.  Amount of precipitation needed to bring an end to the drought, 
issued 8 September 2007. Click on image to enlarge.
Seasonal drought outlook issued 6 September 2007
Figure 12.  U.S. seasonal drought outlook for September through 
November, 2007.
John Tomko contributed to this review.  Figures 1-4 were created 
from the CRONOS database from the State Climate Office of North 
Carolina.  The upper air sounding was obtained from the significant
events database at the Storm Prediction Center.

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