July 2020: Heat and Tropical Trouble in the Northeast

August 6, 2020 // Article by: Cody Hewitt

Compared to a tame June, things really took a turn for what is more conventional for mid-summer. July saw several severe outbreaks, as well as Tropical Storm Fay in the middle of the month (although this was to be overshadowed by Isaias in early August). Rainfall from this helped beat back a drought in the Mid-Atlantic, all while the pattern lent to rather warm weather, even by July standards, across the Northeast.

A meandering front set off run-of-the-mill scattered showers and storms for the first week, but vigorous energy finally triggered more numerous storms on the 6th across PA and NJ before pushing into Maryland. Many storms turned severe, causing numerous wind damage reports across PA, NJ, MD and DE, including some small hail. Attention would then turn to a low pressure system that developed across South Carolina and organized into Tropical Storm Fay.

Tropical Storm Fay on July 10th, just before making landfall in New Jersey. Courtesy NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP Satellite.

While Fay never quite got to hurricane status, it turned directly north and landed a smidge north of Atlantic City, NJ on the 10th with sustained winds peaking at 50 mph (Strathmere, NJ recorded a 44 mph sustained wind, with gusts up to 53 mph). Parts of Delaware saw higher wind gusts before landfall, with Long Neck in particular clocking in at 57 mph. As tends to be the case, much of the rain fell on the northern and western side of the storm, soaking much of eastern PA, NJ, NYC, and DE, with 2 – 4 inches of rain, with localized amounts up to 6” such as in Wildwood Crest. Most shore towns saw various coastal flooding impacts, with even some major highways seeing flooding issues further inland such as I-287 and the New Jersey Turnpike. While Fay weakened as it passed on into upstate New York and ultimately Canada, the storm unfortunately took six lives along its path.

Several cold fronts then passed through over the next week and a half, however not much activity came with it beyond occasional thunderstorms. An Atlantic ridge then set-up a southerly flow by the 19th and 20th, helping to push sultry air into the region, priming the atmosphere for more robust storms. Indeed, temperatures soared 10 degrees above normal, creating a stretch of highs that persistently rose into the 80s and 90s under oppressive humidity. Washington, D.C. actually broke a record, hitting 99 degrees on both days. The 22nd and 23rd then saw two powerful lines of strong storms, the first of which pushed into the Mid-Atlantic and caused widespread wind damage. A small but still impactful batch of storms developed across New England the next day and produced mostly wind damage, but some hail stones over 1” in diameter were reported across southern New Hampshire.

Shelf cloud from an approaching thunderstorm on July 22nd in Manasquan, NJ. Courtesy meteorologist Sherilyn Patrick.

Except for a brief dip in temperatures around the 24th, the hot weather continued to bake the Northeast. The 27th broke several records in the mid to upper 90s: Hartford, CT at 98, Scranton, PA at 97, and even Islip, NY at 95. The month closed out with one final round of severe storms, though not as damaging as the 22nd into the 23rd.

Overall, the monthly average departure ranged from 2 to 6 degrees above normal, which caused many I-95 cities to see one of their warmest July’s on record or at least in the top 10. Baltimore, MD led the way reaching their warmest ever July at 82.6 degrees. Outside of New England, which did not get much rain from Fay and actually fell below their normal precipitation, almost everyone from NYC south and west across the Mid-Atlantic saw plenty of rain. This helped mitigate drought concerns that had been creeping up in the area.