2011 – A year of billion dollar weather disasters

As 2011 winds to a close, the Weather Channel reports that it has been a volatile year of weather across the United States and the tally of weather-related disasters exceeding a billion dollars set a record for the most billion-dollar weather disasters in a single year earlier this year and now the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) has tacked on another two events to list.

To date, there have been a twelve billion-dollar disasters with a combined cost exceeding $50 billion and a winter storm is heading toward the highly populated East Coast threatening more flooding before the end of the calendar year. The previous record for a single year, since records began in 1980, was nine in 2008.

The additions were to split wildfires and drought into two separate categories plus another severe thunderstorm/tornado event in June. Evaluations are still underway for several other extreme events this year, including Tropical Storm Lee and “Snowtober”. However, the available data to NCDC at this time keeps them below $1 billion.

Below is Weather.com’s look back at these twelve disasters starting with Hurricane Irene and ending with the Groundhog Day Blizzard.

Hurricane Irene

Irene’s path history
  • Irene made its initial landfall over coastal North Carolina and moved northward along the Mid-Atlantic Coast before making a final landfall over New York City as a tropical storm.
  • Highlights:     Caused torrential rainfall and catastrophic flooding in portions of the Northeast. Wind damage in coastal N.C., Va., and Md. was moderate with considerable damage from falling trees and power lines. More than 7 million lost power from Hurricane Irene. Coastal erosion was severe in portions of the North Carolina Outer Banks.
  • Caused more than $7.3 billion in damage and 45 fatalities in the U.S.

Upper Midwest Flooding

River flooding in Minot, N.D. Image: AP
  • Current economic losses are estimated to exceed $2 billion dollars.
  • Highlights: Estimated 11,000 evacuated from Minot, N.D. where estimated 4,000 homes flooded from the Souris River. Numerous levees breached on Missouri River, flooding thousands of acres of farmland.
  • The flooding was caused by melting of an above-average northern Rockies snowpack, and heavy spring and early summer rainfall.
  • Top 10 wettest Jan – July in N. Dakota, S. Dakota, and Montana. Records date back to 1895.
  • A major concern with the flood was rising waters that infiltrated a nuclear power plant on the river whose flood controls nearly failed.
Mississippi River Flooding
River flooding in Memphis (Image credit: NASA)
  • Current economic losses are estimated between $3 billion to $4 billion dollars.
  • Preliminary breakdown:$500 million to agriculture in Arkansas, $320 million in damage to Memphis, Tenn., $800 million to agriculture in Mississippi, $317 million to agriculture and property in Missouri’s Birds Point-New Madrid Spillway, $80 million for the first 30 days of flood-fighting efforts in Louisiana.
  • The flooding was caused by heavy rains in April from northern Arkansas and southern Missouri to the Ohio Valley. This water all flowed downstream into the Mississippi River, resulting in record flooding.
  • April was the wettest month on record in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee all finished with a top five wettest April.
Major impacts spring into summer in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Arkansas and Louisiana.
  • Much of the range and pasture conditions were rated very poor in Texas and Oklahoma throughout the 2011 crop growing season.
  • Total direct losses to agriculture and cattle are approaching $10 billion.
  • The Texas state climatalogist is predicting the state is in a multi-year drought pattern and that the state can expect the drought and high heat conditions to continue into the 2012 summer.  Some communities are already out of water and are not expected to recover for quite some time.  In the meantime, this summer had record breaking heat shattering records right and left (Austin 90 days of 100+ degree days, blasting past the previous record of 69 days set in 1925, and other Texas cities set similar records)
Texas, New Mexico, Arizona Wildfires (Spring-Fall 2011) 
Las Conchas wildfire in New Mexico (AP photo)
  • Drought conditions and extreme heat fueled a series of wildfires across these states.
  • Bastrop Fire in Texas – Most destructive fire in Texas history. Over 3 million acres were burned across Texas this year.
  • Wallow Fire in Arizona – Consumed over 500,000 acres, making it the largest fire in Arizona history (See Photos).
  • Las Conchas fire in New Mexico – Largest fire in New Mexico history, consuming over 150,000 acres
  • Total losses from wildfire activity across all three states exceeds $1 billion.

June 18-22 Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes and Severe Weather 

Tornado near Benedict, Neb. on June 20, 2011 (iWitness Weather user mistyand chad)
  • Outbreak of 81 tornadoes over central states (OK, TX, KS, NE, MO, IA, IL)
  • Additional wind/hail damage over TN, GA, NC and SC.
  • More than $1.3 billion in total losses.
May 22-27 Tornadoes and Severe Storm Damage  
Destruction in Joplin, Mo. (AP photo)
  • Severe storms and an estimated 180 tornadoes hit a large swath of the country from the Midwest to the South and Northeast. Insured losses are more than $6.5 billion. Total losses are greater than $9.1 billion.
  • EF5 tornado demolishes Joplin, Mo. on May 22, resulting in 158 fatalities. An EF2 tornado killed one in Minneapolis on the same day.
  • An EF5 tornado carved a 75-mile path across Oklahoma on May 24, including near El Reno, Piedmont and Guthrie. A total of 18 people lost their lives as a result of tornadoes that day in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.
April 25-28 Tornado Outbreak  
Tuscaloosa, Ala., tornado
  • Massive outbreak of severe thunderstorms and estimated 343 tornadoes from the South into portions of the Midwest and Northeast. Total losses are now estimated to be at $10.2 billion.
  • 321 fatalities combined in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia. Of those, 240 occurred in Alabama.
  • A deadly EF4 tornado hit the Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Birmingham, Ala., metro areas.
  • EF5 tornadoes struck Smithville, Miss., Philadelphia, Miss., HackleburgPhil Campbell, Ala., Dekalb County, Ala.
April 14-16 Tornado Outbreak
Damage in Tushka, Okla. (AP photo)
  • Three-day siege of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes from the central and southern Plains to Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and the Carolinas. Total damage estimate over $2.1 billion.
  • Preliminary number of tornadoes: 177
  • Both the Jackson, Miss., and Raleigh, N.C., metro areas were hit by tornadoes.
  • 38 fatalities combined in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.
April 8-11 Tornadoes and Severe Storm Damage
A truck was tossed into this basement in Pocahontas County, Iowa (Image credit: yfrog.com ktivnews)
  • Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes hit portions of the Midwest, South and Plains. Total damage estimate of more than $2.2 billion.
  • Severe damage and several injuries were caused by a tornado in Pulaski, Va., on April 8.
  • An EF3 tornado leveled Mapleton, Iowa, on April 9 .
  • At least 14 confirmed tornadoes in Wisconsin on April 10, a record for any April day in the state. An EF3 tornado heavily damaged Merrill, Wis.
April 4-5 Severe Thunderstorm Outbreak
Tree crushes a car in Memphis, Tenn. (Image credit: twitgoo.com OOHH_My)
  • A massive wind damage event with tornadoes swept from the Ohio Valley to the South and mid-Atlantic. Total damage estimate is greater than $2.8 billion.
  • More than 1,350 damaging wind reports. Estimated 46 tornadoes.
Jan. 29-Feb. 3 ‘Groundhog Day Blizzard’
Cars abandoned in Chicago (Source: twitpic.com/EddiesTPWong)
  • Affected many central and eastern states, causing at least $1.8 billion in total losses.
  • Chicago recorded its biggest 24-hour snow total with 20 inches. Tulsa, Okla., was buried under 14 inches.