The destruction resulting from weather disasters of 2011 has notched a new, albeit unwelcome, record. For the first time, the number of U.S. weather-related disasters in one year causing $1 billion or more in damage has reached 10. The previous record of 9 was recorded in 1980.
Drought, floods and tornadoes have taken their toll on families, communities and farms across the nation, causing hundreds of fatalities and an estimated $35 billion in weather-related damage, according to Chris Vaccaro, director of public affairs at NOAA's National Weather Service. From a crushing blizzard that piled up nearly two feet of snow in Chicago, to wildfires that have burned over 1,000 homes in Texas, Mother Nature has been on a rampage.
While some climate experts cite global warming, others blame the influence of La Nina. Still others just blame bad luck. With three more months before the destructive year ends, some even dread the thought of adding to the record.
The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is the “Nation’s Scorekeeper” in terms of addressing severe weather or climate events in their historical perspective. As part of its responsibility of “monitoring and assessing the climate,” NCDC tracks and evaluates climate events in the U.S. and globally that have great economic and societal impacts.
In chronological order, the top weather disasters in 2011 are:
Groundhog Day Blizzard, Jan. 29-Feb. 3 Large winter storm impacting many central, eastern and northeastern states. Chicago was brought to a virtual standstill as between 1 and 2 feet of snow fell over the area.
Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, April 4-5 Outbreak of tornadoes over central and southern states with an estimated 46 tornadoes.
Southeast/Midwest Tornadoes, April 8-11 Outbreak of tornadoes over central and southern states with an estimated 59 tornadoes.
Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, April 14-16 Outbreak of tornadoes over central and southern states with an estimated 160 tornadoes.
Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest Tornadoes, April 25-30 Outbreak of tornadoes over central and southern states with an estimated 305 tornadoes causing 327 deaths. The deadliest tornado of the outbreak, an EF-5, hit northern Alabama, killing 78.
Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, May 22-27 Outbreak of tornadoes over central and southern states with an estimated 180 tornadoes and 177 deaths. Notably, an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, Mo., resulting in at least 141 deaths, making it the deadliest single tornado to strike the U.S. since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950.
Southern Plains/Southwest Drought, Heatwave, & Wildfires, Spring-Summer Drought, heatwave, and wildfires created major impacts across the Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Arkansas and Louisiana.
Mississippi River flooding, Spring-Summer Persistent rainfall (nearly 300 percent normal precipitation amounts in the Ohio Valley) combined with melting snowpack caused historical flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Upper Midwest Flooding, Summer Melting of an above-average snow pack across the Northern Rocky Mountains combined with above-average precipitation caused the Missouri and Souris Rivers to swell beyond their banks across the Upper Midwest.
Hurricane Irene, Aug. 20-29 While it will take several months to determine an accurate estimate of the damage from Hurricane Irene, there is no question it will rank as the 10th billion-dollar weather/climate event of the year.