Record Number of Billion Dollar Weather Disasters for 2011

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Satellite view of the Groundhog Day winter storm. Credit NOAA.

In 2011 there have been 12 weather-related disasters in the USA, with damage over 1 billion dollars each. By Dec 7, 2011, the total damage from these disasters exceeded $52 billion with additional costs from smaller disturbances. These disasters include blizzards, tornadoes, drought, flooding and wildfires.

The Year of Weather Disasters in Brief

The list of major disasters begins with the “Groundhog Day” blizzard, which affected central, eastern and northeastern states. The blizzard produced up to 20 inches (50 cm) across a wide swathe of the country. Almost $2 billion damages were caused.

The tornado season produced 6 events which caused damage of over $1 billion each. Between 22 and 27 May, tornadoes in the central and southern states caused a record $9.1 billion dollars damage with at least 177 deaths.

Over the spring-to-fall period, drought and excessive heat in the southern states caused losses of crops, livestock and timber worth $10 billion.

Flooding of the Mississippi River occurred during spring and summer due to excessive rain in the Ohio valley. Total economic losses were estimated at up to $4 billion. In the summer, the Misouri River flooded, causing evacuations and $2 billion in damages.

The year as a whole spawned 7 hurricanes, the most significant of which was Irene, which caused $7 billion in damages and claimed over 45 deaths in late August. The number of tropical storms in 2011 was 19, the third highest since records began in 1851.

The Wallow fire in Arizona consumed over 800 square miles at the end of June 2011. Credit NOAA.

Wildfires in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona were caused by excessive heat and dryness. In Texas, 3 million acres burned in the season as a whole, and in one fire alone more than 1500 homes were destroyed.

Overall, there were 646 deaths in these most extreme events, amongst over 1000 weather-related deaths in 2011, about double the yearly average (an average of around 600).

Comparisons with the Weather Disaster Record of Prior Years

Number of weather events per year that exceeded the $1 billion threshold, together with the total weather-related damage. Credit NOAA.

Comparisons with previous years are shown in the figure. Overall, there appears to be an upward-trend in the number of major disasters since 1980, but an increase in the total cost of the damage is much less clear-cut. However, this is skewed by the estimated damage of $81 billion due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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