Remembering Severe Thunderstorms That Have Struck New York City (1980 - 2022)
In a typical year, 19 thunderstorms strike New York, so that means in the period between 1980 and 2021 nearly 800 have rumbled through Central Park. Fortunately, most don't wreak much havoc. However, the nearly sixty storms described below (in chronological order), or about one or two per year, have caused serious disruptions from their flooding rains and wind damage. Two-thirds of them have struck from June through August. Three dates have each had three severe thunderstorms that you'll read about below: 6/13, 7/21, and 9/10.
(Inexplicably, the National Weather Service, stopped tracking the number of thunderstorms in Central Park beginning in 1996).
July 20, 1982 - During a midday thunderstorm, 0.58" of rain fell mostly between11 AM-noon; in a five-minute period at the onset of the storm between 10:57-11:02 AM 0.32" poured down. This storm snapped a four-day heat wave.
July 21, 1983 - Diana Ross' free evening concert in Central Park was interrupted and ultimately postponed when severe thunderstorms lashed the area between 5:30-9 PM (2.26" of rain fell, two-thirds of the month's total precipitation). I'll never forget the sickly yellow-green hue of the clouds as I rushed to the subway after work. It had also been quite a hot day with a high of 95°, the ninth day of 90-degree weather in the past ten days. (To read more about the Diana Ross concert click here.)
June 13, 1984 - While I was sitting in the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village watching Ghostbusters a fierce thunderstorm struck between 5-6 PM. For a while the turbulence outside coincided with a scene in the movie that also featured thunder and lightning. When I returned home afterward I found the entrance to my apartment building blocked by a huge tree branch. Before this severe storm struck the afternoon was stifling hot, with a high of 94°.
September 3, 1984 - The Labor Day holiday ended with a bang as 0.97" of rain fell in a two-hour period between 8:05-10:05 PM.
June 24, 1985 - During a severe thunderstorm 0.50" of rain poured down in a 15-minute period between 1:50-2:05 PM. By the time the rain moved out of the area, shortly before 5 PM, 0.89" had fallen.
August 30, 1985 - It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend and a brief but vicious thunderstorm struck in the middle of the afternoon. I was walking home after seeing the movie Back to the Future on East 34th St. when the skies opened up. I sought refuge under the awning of an apartment building in Gramercy Park to escape the torrential downpour that was accompanied by hail and high winds, but it offered little protection so I retreated inside the lobby of the building. The storm was very brief, about 15 minutes, but it was destructive as many trees in Washington Square Park suffered damage. It turned out the storm was very localized as areas north of 34th St. weren't hit nearly as hard (Central Park measured just 0.16" of rain). At the time this was the worst storm I'd experienced in my years living in New York.
June 21, 1987 - An early morning thunderstorm dumped 1.03" of rain between 3-4 AM. Within that hour 0.60" fell in a 15-minute period between 3:18-3:33 AM.
July 17-21, 1988 - We experienced very tropical conditions during the past five days with hot temperatures and strong thunderstorms at night that dumped more than five inches of rain. Tonight's storms produced 1.65" between 6:30 PM-midnight.
March 18, 1989 - The temperature nosedived by 40 degrees, from 77° to 37°. The cold front produced a severe thunderstorm mid-afternoon in which 0.35" of rain poured down in just ten minutes (between 3:14-3:24 PM). There was also some hail, a rarity in NYC (especially in March).
June 6, 1989 - During an afternoon thunderstorm 1.18" of rain fell in just half an hour (1:30-2 PM).
August 12, 1989 - A number of strong thunderstorms produced three inches of rain (3.50" including rain that fell last night after 10PM). This was the greatest 24-hour rain total in nearly four years when 3.54" fell during Hurricane Gloria. At one point 0.43" poured down in just five minutes (12:54-12:59 PM), one inch in fifteen minutes and 1.97" in forty-five minutes (12:45-1:30 PM).
July 21, 1990 - An evening thunderstorm produced 1.11" of rain in just 45 minutes (5:06-5:51 PM).
June 3, 1991 - During a nighttime thunderstorm 1.72" of rain poured down in just 45 minutes, from 9:07-9:52 PM. And in a 15-minute period between 9:23-9:38 PM 0.84" fell.
July 15, 1992 - 0.37" of rain fell in ten minutes during a severe evening thunderstorm (6:37-6:47 PM). The storm was triggered by a cold front that brought relief after three 90-degree days; today's high was 92°. The downpour (which dumped 0.89" over three hours) disrupted the opening of the third evening session of the Democratic Convention held at Madison Square Garden.
September 3, 1992 - 0.91" of rain fell between 1-2 PM. Rain in the morning and evening added 0.74" more into Central Park's rain gauge.
September 10, 1992 - In just five minutes 0.42" of rain fell between 11:15-11:20 AM, and 1.02" fell in the twenty-minute period between 11:06-11:26 AM.
August 16, 1993 - A severe thunderstorm dumped 1.22" of rain in just 30 minutes between 6-6:30 PM. 1.81" rain fell during the entirety of the storm.
May 25, 1994 - An evening thunderstorm (including hail, a rarity in Manhattan) delayed by three hours my 8:15 flight to Pittsburgh, where I was going to help my family make arrangements for my father's funeral. I finally arrived shortly before 1AM.
August 13, 1994 - 0.48" of rain fell in just ten minutes between 4:20-4:30 PM.
August 21, 1994 - During a strong thunderstorm 0.51" of rain fell in just fifteen minutes between 4:15-4:30 PM. Then between 10PM and midnight an additional 0.52" fell.
May 29, 1995 - During a severe nighttime thunderstorm on Memorial Day 0.50" of rain fell in just 30 minutes (9:40-10:10 PM). The storm was also accompanied by hail.
June 12, 1995 - In just fifteen minutes a torrential downpour during a thunderstorm dumped 0.68" of rain between 12:28-12:43 AM. Showers later that afternoon brought the day's rainfall total to 0.99", which accounted for half of the month's precipitation.
July 17, 1995 - A torrential rainstorm dumped 3.36" of rain tonight between 10 PM-1 AM. Incredibly, 2.09" fell in just one hour (10:19-11:19 PM). I was attending the theater to see Ralph Fiennes in Macbeth when the skies opened up shortly after intermission. Soon the rain was falling so heavily that it began dripping onto the stage. When the play was over many of us hesitated going out into the deluge but theater management wouldn't let us linger. This was the biggest 24-hour rainstorm since 3.20" fell on Aug. 16-17, 1993.
June 13, 1998 - 1.31" of rain fell between 10 AM-noon. It came down especially hard in the second hour when 0.85" fell. This heavy rainfall followed steady rain that fell yesterday and amounted to 1.29".
September 7, 1998 - It was Labor Day and beginning in the afternoon and continuing through the evening severe thunderstorms struck. 0.64" of rain thundered down between 1-2 PM and later 1.61" fell between 9 PM-1 AM. I was out at Fire Island for the weekend and was on the the beach when the first storm swooped in. It was truly frightening trying to outrun the storm as it bore down and I thought of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz as she struggled mightily to get home as the twister approached. My return to the City was delayed by two hours because train service was suspended. This was the rainiest 9/7 on record.
September 10, 1999 - 0.77" of rain fell between midnight and 1 AM. Total rainfall for the day, 1.38", was a record for the date (and one of the lowest totals to be a daily record).
July 14, 2000 - A strong thunderstorm dumped 0.51" of rain in fifteen minutes during lunchtime on Saturday (12:51-1:06 PM).
September 10, 2001 - The day was quite warm (a high of 86°, warmest of the month) with a tropical feel to the air. Then a passing cold front triggered two rounds of strong thunderstorms in the late afternoon and evening which dumped 1.16" of rain. Later on skies cleared, making for beautiful conditions the next morning throughout the Northeast.
December 23, 2004 - A strong cold front blew through during the afternoon, producing thunderstorms with 40-50 mph wind gusts. These storms caused extensive airport delays. My Christmas flight to Pittsburgh, where I was going to visit my mother, was cancelled, as were many others, and I had to re-book a flight for the following morning. Today's high of 59° came just three days after a morning low of 11°, the month's two extremes.
March 28, 2005 - My 5:00 flight back to NYC from Pittsburgh after visiting my mother for Easter was delayed by three hours because of heavy rain and thunderstorms in the New York area. Later, after circling Newark for 20 minutes the flight was diverted to Hartford for refueling and then we quickly got back in the air (I walked into my apartment at 12:15 AM). 2.98" rain fell, a record for the date. This was the biggest rain producer in six months, since tropical storm Jeanne dumped 4.66" at the end of September.
August 14, 2005 - After a sizzling high of 96° (the fourth day in a row with 90-degree temperatures) a strong thunderstorm dumped 3.11" of rain during the evening. Two especially heavy periods of rain occurred between 6-7 PM when 1.70" fell (including 0.82" in fifteen minutes) and 9-10PM when 0.83" came down. Today's rain accounted for much of the month's rainfall. Until today just 0.09" of rain had fallen in the past four weeks.
June 2, 2006 - A severe thunderstorm struck shortly after lunchtime on Friday and dumped 1.73" in an hour (2:35-3:35 PM). During this hour 0.54" fell in five minutes and 1.02" in ten minutes. My staff and I watched the storm approach from the 36th floor of the office building we worked in at the corner of Park Ave. and 34th St. Total rainfall for the day was 2.79", a record for the date.
June 12, 2007 - 0.85" of rain poured down in just 15 minutes between 2:07-2:22 PM. (Topping the 15-minute deluge of 0.68" on this date in 1995).
August 8, 2007 - Tremendous thunderstorms moved through New York before daybreak, dumping 2.50" of rain and shutting down much of the City's transit system. A tornado wreaked havoc in parts of Brooklyn - the first to strike the borough in more than 100 years. Between 4:36-5:36 AM 1.91" of rain came down, the greatest one-hour downpour since July 17, 1995 (when 2.09" fell).
October 11, 2007 - An already gloomy day turned turbulent late in the afternoon as a cold front triggered strong thunderstorms which dumped nearly an inch of rain between 4-5:30. Rush hour service on the Long Island Railroad was greatly disrupted for a number of hours.
August 18, 2009 - A quick-moving, but severe, thunderstorm struck shortly before 10 PM and produced a micro-burst that downed more than 500 trees in Central Park and Riverside Park between West 90th and 106th Streets - the most destructive storm in the history of these storied parks. 0.64" fell during the short-lived storm. Besides the violent wind and rain the storm was noteworthy for its vivid lightning and booming thunder.
September 16, 2010 - A frighteningly violent and fast-moving storm ripped through the City during evening rush hour. While Manhattan was largely spared (0.46" of rain fell), parts of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens were hit by tornadic winds. Service on the Long Island railroad was shut down until the next morning and highway traffic was gridlocked because of downed tree branches.
August 9, 2011 - 2.09" of rain fell in the early afternoon, causing extensive subway and street flooding. I was vacationing out at Fire Island at the time, which escaped the heavy rain. This was the first of four days this month which saw more than two inches of rain.
July 18, 2012 - It was a perfect set-up for wild weather as a cold front met up with very hot and humid air that saw the day's high soar to 100° (with the heat index close to 110°). This vicious heat was broken by a line of tremendous thunderstorms (with cloud tops at 50,000 feet) between 4-6 PM which delivered torrential downpours (1.76" was measured, a record for the date) and hail in lower Manhattan.
April 10, 2013 - What had been a beautiful spring day, with a high of 74°, came to a crashing end as a series of strong thunderstorms barreled through between 7-11 PM. What made these especially noteworthy was the fact that they occurred in early April. However, despite the storm's long duration, surprisingly little rain fell, with just 0.49" measured in Central Park. Still, this was the first rainfall of the month.
May 11, 2013 - A strong thunderstorm during mid-afternoon dumped 0.87" of rain between 3-4 PM. Earlier in the day, the morning low of 61° was the first 60-degree low of the year, and was eight degrees milder than average.
May 23, 2013 - Strong thunderstorms between 3-7 PM dumped 1.81" of rain. This brought the month's rainfall to just over seven inches, making it the wettest May since 1990. It also made it NYC's wettest month since September 2011.
June 13, 2014 - Heavy showers moved through around 9 AM and then a severe thunderstorm struck between 5:45 and 7:30 PM. In between, during the afternoon, the sun broke through for the first time in five days. The 1.28" of rain that fell came one year after 1.26" fell on the same date.
July 2, 2014 - This was the year's first day in the 90s, the latest date for this occurrence since the summer of 1985. It was sunny and uncomfortably humid, making the high of 91° feel like 96°. Some relief arrived after 6:00 when severe thunderstorms with vivid lightning rumbled through the area over the next four hours. Central Park picked up nearly an inch of rain.
July 3, 2014 - Like yesterday, severe thunderstorms moved through in the evening. Unlike yesterday today's storms didn't feature as much vivid lightning but produced nearly twice as much rain (1.78") in half the time (7:00-9:00).
August 31, 2014 - Meteorological summer ended on a hot and sultry note, with a high/low of 90°/73°. With dew points in the low 70s, the heat index rose into the mid-90s. During late afternoon 0.63" of rain fell during a heavy downpour between 4:30 and 5 PM. This was the most rain to fall on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend since 2000.
July 30, 2015 - A series of tropical downpours during the afternoon dumped 1.95" of rain - the first rain to fall on this date in fifteen years. Today's amount was comparable to the rainfall of the past four weeks and was the biggest rainstorm since Jan. 18 (when 2.10" fell). During one 20-minute period (between 1:25 and 1:45 PM) nearly an inch of rain poured down. It was a very muggy day, with dew points in the low 70s and a high of 87°.
July 14, 2016 - The air was thick with humidity and the dew point was in the 70s all day. Although the temperature failed to reach 90° (the high was 88°), the wicked humidity produced heat indexes in the mid-90s. Some relief came when a strong, but brief, thunderstorm moved through between 4:00 and 4:30 PM, dumping 0.62" of rain in about 15 minutes (winds gusted between 35 and 40 mph). However, the storm didn't dissipate the humidity as the dew point rose to an unbearable 76° around 7PM.
July 31, 2016 - For the third time in this final week of July an inch or more of rain fell. Much of today's 1.08" (0.77") fell in a five-minute period between 8:39 and 8:44 PM - the greatest five-minute total in the years since 1970. Today's rain brought July's total to 7.02", making it the rainiest month since April 2014. And it was also the wettest July since 2009 (when 7.11" fell).
June 17-July 7, 2017 - During this three-week period four thunderstorms each produced more than an inch of rain (and 5.27" in total). On 6/17 a thunderstorm during lunchtime (11:30 AM-2 PM) dumped 1.39"; two days later a thunderstorm during the evening rush hour produced 1.28"; a thunderstorm at daybreak on 6/24 filled the Central Park rain gauge with 1.11", and on 7/7 1.49" poured down late in the morning (10:15 AM thru noon).
May 15, 2018 - A very warm and humid afternoon, with a high of 88°, ended turbulently as a quick-moving line of severe thunderstorms struck as the evening rush hour was beginning. This caused long delays for commuters waiting at Grand Central Station and widespread cancellations for air travelers (like me, trying to return from Pittsburgh). 0.58" poured down in a little more than two hours. And while wind gusts of 55, 54 and 53 mph were clocked at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, Central Park was protected and a had a peak gust of only 30 mph. Four persons were killed from falling tree limbs.
July 17, 2018 - A cold front moving into hot and very humid air triggered severe thunderstorms across the metro area in the middle of the afternoon (as well as a funnel cloud over New York Harbor). In Manhattan nearly two inches of rain fell between 2:30 and 3:30, which exceeded what fell during the first sixteen days of the month. Before the storm struck the temperature had risen into the upper 80s and the heat index reached 100°. For the entirety of the storm 2.22" was measured in Central Park, which was three times as much as what Kennedy Airport had, twice as much as Newark received and 40% more than what fell in the rain gauge at LaGuardia.
July 22, 2019 - Shortly before Monday's evening rush hour was about to get underway three rounds of strong thunderstorms brought heavy rain, with 1.66" measured by midnight (most of it fell between 3:45 and 7:30 PM). The storms erupted shortly after the dew point rose to an absurdly high 79°. Before the storms arrived the temperature had reached 90°, making this the fourth day in a row with highs in the 90s.
July 22, 2020 - Today was the fifth day in a row with high in the 90s (today's high was 92°) and then a severe thunderstorm with lots of lightning and deep rumbles of thunder dumped 1.23" of rain between 7-8 PM. Winds gusted to 35 mph in Central Park and 45-55 mph gusts were common in the suburbs.
Aug. 12, 2020 - Very tropical conditions brought heat (high of 90°), stifling humidity (the dew point reached 77°, producing a heat index around 100°), and then a severe thunderstorm during the late afternoon. The 1.76" of rain that poured down (almost all between 4-5 PM) was more than triple the 0.55" that fell last week from tropical storm Isaias.
July 8, 2021 - After sunny skies predominated through early afternoon, 2.27" of rain flooded the City between 4:30-7 PM, setting a rainfall record for the date (the previous record was from 1899). Much of the rain fell during a severe thunderstorm that produced torrential rain during the evening rush hour, dumping 1.56" between 5-6 PM. NYC was the bullseye for this storm, as the area's three major airports had much less, with LaGuardia reporting 0.95", JFK getting 0.32", and Newark seeing just 0.09". Today's rain was the greatest daily amount to fall in Central Park since July 10 of last year, when 2.54" was measured as tropical storm Fay passed by (also a record amount).
May 28, 2022 - An isolated, severe thunderstorm struck Central Park early in the afternoon, dumping 0.64” of rain in less than an hour (and there was a wind gust of 42 mph). By contrast, Newark, LGA and JFK had minimal rainfall (and my Greenwich Village neighborhood didn’t get hit as hard as CPK). Combined with rain early in the morning, the day’s total rainfall of 0.72” set a record as the rainiest Saturday of any Memorial Day holiday weekend. (Pushing ahead of the 0.68” that fell in 1982, and 0.65” in 2020).
Lots of stormy Tuesday afternoons in spring/summer 2018, with 5/15, 7/17, and now 8/14 on our list. I think you messed up on two storms that are marked as occurring in 2014 - the storms occurred on 5/11, the day before Mother's day, and Thursday 5/23 both in 2013. And why is the monster storm of Friday April 19 2002 not included - that broke a crazy spring heat wave in my 7th grade year. My Supertrans bus crashed on the way back from Horace Mann school in Riverdale in blinding torrential rain.
Posted by: John | 08/15/2018 at 12:07 AM
Hi John, thanks for pointing out the error with the years; it's been corrected. And thank you for you recollection of the thunderstorm of 4/19/2002. This may be a case of a localized storm because I have nothing written in my journal about a severe storm that afternoon. Also, looking at the month's weather summary shows that the day's 0.23" of rain fell over the course of five hours (5-10PM), so at least in Central Park there was no deluge.
Posted by: Rob | 08/16/2018 at 11:58 AM
What happened to the stormy period of early July 1997, with disappointing thunderstorms on July 3 (which was predicted to be far worse than it was), and then the terrible storms two days apart on Monday the 7th and Wednesday the 9th?
Posted by: John R Taylor | 07/21/2019 at 09:13 PM
Hi John, the thunderstorms chosen for the post were based on what I wrote in my journals about them, and during the first week of July 1997 I didn't have much to say about the storms except that the one that struck on 7/7 between 5-530 PM shut down some subway lines in Queens for four hours.
Posted by: Rob | 07/24/2019 at 12:25 PM
Hi, Rob. I live in southern Litchfield County, Connecticut (about 80 miles north of New York), a hilly region that generally averages 3-5 degrees colder than New York. Every summer (before the pandemic), I took vacations down in New York, and I quickly became interested in comparing New York’s weather with Northwest Connecticut. The majority of weather events are almost identical (with the exception that my area becomes cool earlier in the fall and has longer winters).
The typical thunderstorm season lasts from mid-May to mid-September. However, I can recall some strong out-of-season thunderstorms during the past two years. The following seven dates contained some serious out-of-season thunderstorms: March 15, 2019; April 15, 2019; April 26, 2019; December 30, 2019; April 9, 2020; April 21, 2020; and October 7, 2020. There must have been tremendous upper level instability during these events, because temperatures during most of the storms mentioned above hovered around 50 degrees, and December 2019’s thunderstorm occurred during an ice storm when the temperature hovered around 32 degrees.
Did New York experience any of the storms mentioned above? And although the events are rare, how often does New York experience thunderstorms outside of the May-September time frame?
From a curious weather fanatic
Posted by: New England Patriot Fan | 10/10/2020 at 07:13 PM
All of the dates you listed had some rain reported in Central Park but not all were from thunderstorms. The most severe was likely the thunderstorm this year on 4/21 that resulted in a tornado warning for NYC; however, just 0.18" was measured. 3/19/19 had a thunderstorm between 9-10 PM that produced 0.39" of rain; heavy rain on the morning of 4/15/19 amounted to close to an inch of rain and included a thunderstorm; 4/26/19 saw about an inch of rain fall during lunchtime. but there was no thunderstorm. 12/30/19 had rain for much of the day (0.74") but there were no thunderstorms. The three dates you asked about from this year all had thunderstorms but minimal rainfall (0.12" on 4/9; 0.18" on 4/21; and 0.02" on 10/7).
Posted by: Rob | 10/16/2020 at 09:54 PM