Fourteen U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011: a new record

By Dr. Jeff Masters
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Published: 12:12 PM GMT on November 04, 2011

It's time to add another billion-dollar weather disaster to the growing 2011 total of these costly disasters: the extraordinary early-season Northeast U.S. snowstorm of October 29, which dumped up to 32 inches of snow, brought winds gusts of 70 mph to the coast, and killed at least 22 people. Not since the infamous snow hurricane of 1804 have such prodigious amounts of October snow been recorded in New England and, to a lesser extent, in the mid-Atlantic states. Trees that had not yet lost their leaves suffered tremendous damage from the wet, heavy snow. Snapped branches and falling trees brought down numerous power lines, leaving at least 3 million people without electricity. The damage estimate in Connecticut alone is $3 billion, far more than the damage Hurricane Irene did to the state. Hundreds of thousands still remain without power a week after the storm, with full electricity not expected to be restored until Monday.


Figure 1. Wet, heavy snow from the October 29, 2011 snowstorm weighing down trees still sporting their fall leaves in Winchester, VA. Image credit: wunderphotographer MaddScientist98.

The October 29 snow storm brings the 2011 tally of U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters to fourteen, thoroughly smashing the previous record of nine such disasters, set in 2008. Between 1980 - 2010, the U.S. averaged 3.5 of these weather disasters per year. Through August, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) estimated that ten weather disasters costing at least $1 billion had hit the U.S., at total cost of up to $45 billion. However, the October 29 snow storm brings us up to eleven billion-dollar disasters, and a new disaster analysis done by global reinsurance company AON Benfield adds three more. Flood damage from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee in the Northeast on September 8 is now estimated at more than $1 billion, and two outbreaks of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes--one in April and one in June--now have damage estimates exceeding $1 billion. A remarkable seven severe thunderstorm/tornado outbreaks did more than $1 billion each in damage in 2011, and an eighth outbreak July 10 - 14 came close, with damages of $900 million. In total, the fourteen billion-dollar disasters killed 675 people. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods in these fourteen disasters killed over 600 people, putting 2011 into fourth place since 1940 for most deaths by severe storms. Only 2005, with over 1,000 deaths caused by Katrina, 1969, with over 700 hurricane and flood-related deaths, and 1972, with 676 hurricane and flood-related deaths, were deadlier years for storms, according to NOAA. The fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters of 2011 caused $53 billion in damage, putting 2011 in fifth place for most damages from billion-dollar weather disasters. The top damage years, according to NCDC in adjusted 2011 dollars, were 2005 (the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma), 2008 (Hurricane Ike), 1988 (Midwest drought), and 1980 (Midwest drought). With nearly two months remaining in 2011, the potential exists for more billion-dollar weather disasters this year. Our first opportunity comes Tuesday, when the NOAA Storm Prediction Center is forecasting the possibility of a severe weather outbreak centered over Arkansas and Missouri.


Video 1. Remarkable video of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama during the April 25 - 30, 2011 Super Outbreak. This tornado outbreak was the most expensive U.S. weather-related disaster of 2011, with damages estimated at $9 billion. Fast forward to minute four to see the worst of the storm.

Here are AON Benfield's estimates of the damages and NCDC's estimates of the death tolls from 2011's fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters (a clickable version of this table with information on each disaster is available on our severe weather resource page):



Have a great weekend, everyone, and I'll be back with a new post on Monday.

Angela Fritz is subbing for Ricky Rood this week, and has written an interesting post on the latest climate change controversy, the release of the new Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study by skeptic Dr. Richard Muller.

Jeff Masters

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About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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Fourteen U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011: a new record

It's time to add another billion-dollar weather disaster to the growing 2011 total of these costly disasters: the extraordinary early-season Northeast U.S. snowstorm of October 29, which dumped up to 32 inches of snow, brought winds gusts of 70 mph to the coast, and killed at least 22 people. Not since the infamous snow hurricane of 1804 have such prodigious amounts of October snow been recorded in New England and, to a lesser extent, in the mid-Atlantic states. Tre...

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