The United States had a record 12 weather and climate disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damages in 2011, and that number could increase as other assessments wrap up, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday.
The countryâ€™s old record for weather and climate disasters costing at least $1 billion was nine, set in 2008.
The yearâ€™s costliest disaster so far is the April 25-28 tornado outbreak that killed 321 people in central and Southern states, including Alabama, where the Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville areas were hard hit. Losses in that outbreak have totaled $10.2 billion, according to NOAA.
Also on the 2011 list is a multimonth drought and heatwave in the southern Plains and the Southwest, which so far has caused nearly $10 billion in direct losses to crops, livestock and timber, NOAA says. The cost will rise because the drought and the year arenâ€™t finished.
Another disaster on the list is the May 22-27 Midwest/Southeast tornado outbreak, including a tornado that killed 158 people in Joplin, Missouri. That outbreak killed at least 177 people and caused damages of more than $9.1 billion, according to NOAA.
â€śIn my weather career spanning four decades, Iâ€™ve never seen a year like 2011,â€ť National Weather Service director Jack Hayes said in a video posted on NOAAâ€™s website. â€śSure, weâ€™ve had years with extreme flooding, extreme hurricanes, extreme winter snowstorms and even extreme tornado outbreaks. But I canâ€™t remember a year like this in which we experienced record-breaking extremes of nearly every conceivable type of weather.â€ť
The year already had a record-breaking 10 $1 billion disasters before this week, but NOAA added two to the list on Wednesday: Wildfires in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona (more than $1 billion), which previously had been counted in the southern Plains and Southwestern drought; and June 18-22 tornadoes and severe weather in the Midwest and Southeast (three dead; $1.3 billion).
The other seven $1 billion events, according to NOAA, were:
- January 29 to February 3: Central, Eastern and Northeastern U.S. blizzard (at least 36 deaths, $1.8 billion in losses)
- April 4-5: Midwest/Southeast tornadoes (nine deaths; $2.8 billion)
- April 8-11: Southeast/Midwest tornadoes: (no deaths; $2.2 billion)
- April 14-16: Midwest/Southeast tornadoes: (38 deaths; $2.1 billion)
- Spring and summer: Mississippi River flooding ($3 billion to $4 billion in economic losses)
- Summer: Upper Midwest flooding (five deaths; more than $2 billion)
- August 20-29: Hurricane Irene (45 deaths; $7.3 billion)
NOAA said it is continuing to assess damage data from other events, including a pre-Halloween storm in the Northeast and Tropical Storm Lee.
This yearâ€™s 12 events have totaled about $52 billion in damages, but they arenâ€™t the countryâ€™s costliest set of major disasters, NOAA said. In 2005, the country had five disasters costing more than $1 billion - including Hurricane Katrina - with a total cost of more than $175 billion in 2011 dollars, according to NOAA.
The United States had a yearly average of 1.2 weather/climate disasters causing more than $1 billion in damages in the 1980s, according to NOAA. The average was 3.8 per year in the 1990s and five per year between 2000 and 2009.
Also see: Severe weather the norm in 2011