2011 the most expensive year for natural disasters in history

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:42 PM GMT on July 14, 2011

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An exceptional accumulation of very severe natural catastrophes, including earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, tornadoes and flooding in the U.S., and flooding in Australia and New Zealand, make 2011 the highest-ever loss year on record, even after the first half-year, said re-insurance giant Munich Re in a press release this week. The $265 billion in economic losses accumulated this year exceeds the previous record year, 2005, which had $220 billion in damage (mostly due to $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Katrina.) Unlike 2005, this year's losses have been headlined by two huge earthquakes--the March 11 quake in Japan ($210 billion) and the February 22 quake in New Zealand ($20 billion.) But with the Northern Hemisphere's hurricane season just beginning, this year's record losses may see a significant boost from hurricanes.


Figure 1. Stunned survivors survey the destruction left by the EF-4 Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado of April. With a price tag estimated at $2 billion, this was the single most expensive tornado of all-time. The record stood only three weeks, being surpassed by the $3 billion in damage from the Joplin Missouri, tornado. The two tornado outbreaks that spawned these tornadoes rank as the globe's 3rd and 5th most destructive natural disasters so far this year. Image from an anonmous posting to Twitter.

Climate change and damage from weather-related disasters
In an interview with MSNBC, Peter Hoppe, who runs Munich Re's Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Center, said that while the damage trend for earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions is fairly stable, damage from severe weather events is on the upswing, even after factoring in increases in population and wealth. He cited natural events such as La Niña and El Niño as factors in some of the damaging weather events, but added that warming temperatures appear to be adding a layer "on top" of that natural variability. In particular, he noted that the floods this January in Australia--that nation's most expensive natural disaster of all time--occurred when ocean temperatures off the coast were at record warm levels. That meant "more evaporation and higher potential for these extreme downpours", and "it can only be explained by global warming."


Figure 2. The five most expensive natural disasters of 2011, as estimated by Munich Re.

However, the there is a lot of controversy on whether economic losses due to weather-related disasters is increasing due to climate change. A 2010 paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society by Netherlands researcher Laurens Bouwer titled, "Have disaster losses increased due to anthropogenic climate change?", looked at 22 disaster loss studies in various parts of the world. All of the studies showed an increase in damages from weather-related disasters in recent decades. The big question is, how much of this increase in damage was due to increases in population, and the fact people are getting wealthier, and thus have more stuff to get damaged? Fourteen of the 22 studies concluded that there were no trends in damage after correcting for increases in wealth and population, while eight of the studies did find upward trends even after such corrections. In all 22 studies, increases in wealth and population were the "most important drivers for growing disaster losses."

Bouwer's review of these 22 disaster loss studies was critiqued this year by Neville Nicholls of the School of Geography and Environmental Science of Montash University, Australia. His analysis, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, notes that Bouwer's study of damage losses did not include the impact of improvements in building codes and weather forecasting. We can expect both factors to have significantly reduced damages due to storms in recent years. Nicholls concludes, "The absence of an upward trend in normalized losses may be due to a balance between reduced vulnerability (from improved weather forecasting and building techniques) and increased frequency or intensity of weather hazards." In his reply to Nicholls' comments, Bouwer states that Nicholls "provides no support that these factors have actually contributed to a substantial reduction in losses over the period of the last decades."

Jeff Masters

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OK, roll call! Who is still up?
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640. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #1
TROPICAL STORM TOKAGE (T1107)
12:00 PM JST July 15 2011
==========================================

SUBJECT: Category One Typhoon In Sea East Of The Philippines

At 3:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Tokage (1002 hPa) located at 14.1N 132.9E has 10 minute sustained winds of 35 knots with gusts of 50 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving east southeast slowly

Dvorak Intensity: T2.5

Gale Force Winds
================
130 NM from the center in south quadrant
70 NM from the center in north quadrant

Forecast and Intensity
========================
24 HRS: 14.5N 133.5E - 35 knots (CAT 1/Tropical Storm)
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Quoting ProgressivePulse:
I mean really, lol, that is a lot of ridging.




What are you doing up so late?
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I mean really, lol, that is a lot of ridging.


Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5039
Quoting Grothar:


It has a little spin to it, and impressive for this time in the season, but we will have to wait until it moves closer. Not as impressive as earlier today though.




Seems neutral has taken hold of the atmosphere. Nothing is going to happen until this ridging subsides. ITCZ checked out and flanking hard left.

Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5039
Is this big Wavein C Africa the beginnig of an active CV season... there are 2 that follow...
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Quoting TomTaylor:
interesting.

The frictional force from the ocean does increase as the pressure gradient force increases due to stronger winds creating larger waves. But I guess the pressure force increases at a stronger rate than the frictional force does, allowing wind to flow more parallel along the isobars.


Very true. I have been searching for some kinetic coefficients of friction for ocean surfaces and/or waves, with no luck. Until then, I have no idea what the frictional force is on the air flowing above the sea, but I would think that the pressure gradient force increase in a strengthening storm does exceed the increase in frictional force.
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633. JLPR2
Quoting Skyepony:
Fresh Oceansat pass


It's better defined than what I thought. Would be pretty interesting if it popped at d-max.
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Closed circulation in the Philippine Sea, 25-30 knot winds...looks like it was a tropical depression to me



Looks like its about dead now though, Ma-On is killing it

Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4357
Quoting Grothar:


It has a little spin to it, and impressive for this time in the season, but we will have to wait until it moves closer. Not as impressive as earlier today though.



That's true, and there's another one exiting the African coast. Both of them interesting for this time of year.
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Figure if you spin around in your chair 3 times and say 'there's no place like a Herbert Box' anything is bound to start spinning.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23564
629. Skyepony (Mod)
Fresh Oceansat pass
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Quoting Levi32:
So perhaps the eyewall is initially formed when the storm becomes strong enough that the frictional effects of the ocean surface on the low-level inflow become fairly small compared to the pressure gradient force, at which point the inflow around the low center is a lot closer to geostrophic than if the speed of the inflow were a lot slower. At that point, the inflow would start converging into more of a ring, rather than one distinct point of low pressure.
interesting.

The frictional force from the ocean does increase as the pressure gradient force increases due to stronger winds creating larger waves. But I guess the pressure force increases at a stronger rate than the frictional force does, allowing wind to flow more parallel along the isobars.
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4357
Quoting caneswatch:
What do you think of these new wave out in the Atlantic Groth?


It has a little spin to it, and impressive for this time in the season, but we will have to wait until it moves closer. Not as impressive as earlier today though.

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Quoting Levi32:
Speaking of eyes, this one is still having trouble as of this 00:37z microwave pass:

good news for Japan
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4357
The Carolinas
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Speaking of eyes, this one is still having trouble as of this 00:37z microwave pass:

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What do you think of these new wave out in the Atlantic Groth?
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Great discussion. Thanks for the paper Pat!
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4357
Quoting pottery:

You, me, and Press...
A couple Hundred years accumulated right there....

we ought to know better!
Or something....


I think I've forgotten most of what I once knew.
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Quoting bappit:

Yes, I draw that conclusion, but that is what I have observed, too. Eyes [can] form before they are visible on visible satellite images. We [often] see them first on microwave images. Eyes clear out fairly quickly when a storm intensifies. The eye also can fill with cloud when a storm weakens. The Willoughby paper cites examples of the latter.


That's a good point.
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Quoting Grothar:


I guess it's time for the younger generation to do the technical stuff. We can just sit back and post images. Let them argue it out. My "get up and go", got up and went"

You, me, and Press...
A couple Hundred years accumulated right there....

we ought to know better!
Or something....
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Quoting presslord:


yup...pretty cool


I guess it's time for the younger generation to do the technical stuff. We can just sit back and post images. Let them argue it out. My "get up and go", got up and went"
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Quoting pottery:

Yeah, I'm enjoying this.
Although some of it is sending me into some Tutorials....


I haven't seen some of these terms in 40 years. They are doing pretty good. Like watching a tennis match.

I guess when some people say they see and "eye" before a storm is formed, they may be right. :)
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Quoting beell:


Subsidence can occur along the periphery of an upper ridge without convergence. Convergence along the TUTT and the ridge can accelerate the process. Earlier discussions did not mention a convergent flow. Only TUTT subsidence.


Bingo.
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So perhaps the eyewall is initially formed when the storm becomes strong enough that the frictional effects of the ocean surface on the low-level inflow become fairly small compared to the pressure gradient force, at which point the inflow around the low center is a lot closer to geostrophic than if the speed of the inflow were a lot slower. At that point, the inflow would start converging into more of a ring, rather than one distinct point of low pressure.
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Convergence and divergence

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613. beell
Quoting bappit:

They've been talking about subsidence for some time. The subsidence implies convergence aloft since a cyclone would not ordinarily be associated with synoptic scale subsidence. So now they spelled it out.


Subsidence can occur along the periphery of an upper ridge (or an upper trough) without convergence. Convergence along the TUTT and the ridge can accelerate the process. Earlier discussions did not mention a convergent flow. Only TUTT subsidence.
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Quoting Grothar:
Nice discussion guys. Interesting!


yup...pretty cool
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Quoting Grothar:
Nice discussion guys. Interesting!

Yeah, I'm enjoying this.
Although some of it is sending me into some Tutorials....
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Quoting Levi32:


But then this quote from the paper we are currently discussing implies that the eyewall forms before any subsidence and drying begins at the center of the tropical storm.

"When
the eyewall first formed, it enclosed air from the cloud
mass of the preexistent tropical storm. The sounding
inside might plausibly have been saturated, or nearly
so, and dominated by convective adjustment toward a
moist adiabat near ue 5 ;350 K"


I had not heard this before.

Yes, I draw that conclusion, but that is what I have observed, too. Eyes [can] form before they are visible on visible satellite images. We [often] see them first on microwave images. Eyes clear out fairly quickly when a storm intensifies. The eye also can fill with cloud when a storm weakens. The Willoughby paper cites examples of the latter.
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Nice discussion guys. Interesting!
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Quoting beell:
Hey, Levi,

There's a first mention of a convergent flow aloft for Ma-On in the 03Z discussion.

: -)

They've been talking about subsidence for some time. The subsidence implies convergence aloft since a cyclone would not ordinarily be associated with synoptic scale subsidence. So now they spelled it out.
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Quoting Levi32:


But then this quote from the paper we are currently discussing implies that the eyewall forms before any subsidence and drying begins at the center of the tropical storm.

"When
the eyewall %uFB01rst formed, it enclosed air from the cloud
mass of the preexistent tropical storm. The sounding
inside might plausibly have been saturated, or nearly
so, and dominated by convective adjustment toward a
moist adiabat near ue 5 ;350 K"


hmm that is interesting, well I am always up for learning more, and I haven't actually taken any meteorology classes beyond introductory yet anyway, most of what I know is from getting good books on meteorology from the library that are based on known science. I'm in my second year taking all my liberal studies Calculus Physics Chemistry first. Next year I start diving into all the stuff I'm excited about.

Florida State has graduate programs in tropical meteorology, which I will probably head for after the bachelors if everything works out.
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606. beell
A tip o' the hat to Patrap and bappit for this discussion.
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Quoting Jedkins01:


Well I always thought that was a universal understanding in hurricane science...


But then this quote from the paper we are currently discussing implies that the eyewall forms before any subsidence and drying begins at the center of the tropical storm.

"When
the eyewall first formed, it enclosed air from the cloud
mass of the preexistent tropical storm. The sounding
inside might plausibly have been saturated, or nearly
so, and dominated by convective adjustment toward a
moist adiabat near ue 5 ;350 K"


I had not heard this before.
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603. beell
Quoting Levi32:


Very interesting.


Yup.

The soundings and interpretation presented here suggest strongly that the thermodynamics of tropical cyclone eyes do not obey conventional models in which air detrains from the eyewall near the tropopause, sinks through most of the depth of the troposphere inside the eye%u2014acquiring moisture and momentum as needed to maintain its bulk properties%u2014and is entrained back into the eyewall at the bottom
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Quoting Levi32:


Implying that there is an eyewall prior to any subsidence at the center of the storm? The first time I learned about eye formation in a college meteorology text, they clearly noted latent heat release raising pressures and initiating decent as being the process that initially forms the eye and establishes the defined eyewall region. After the eye has begun to take shape, then the process you mention accelerates the sinking. That's how I understood it from my text, anyway.


Well I always thought that was a universal understanding in hurricane science...
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Quoting bappit:
Fun facts to know and tell from the paper's conclusion:

The soundings and interpretation presented here suggest strongly that the thermodynamics of tropical cyclone eyes do not obey conventional models in which air detrains from the eyewall near the tropopause, sinks through most of the depth of the troposphere inside the eye—acquiring moisture and momentum as needed to maintain its bulk properties—and is entrained back into the eyewall at the bottom. Conventional models assume implicitly that the time required to cycle air though the eye is short compared with the lifetime of the eye. The present observations show that the eye contains two air masses separated by an inversion. The air below the inversion exchanges momentum and moist enthalpy with the sea and mixes in complicated ways with air from the eyewall. The air above the inversion has been in the eye since the eye first formed. Its thermodynamic structure may be derived from an initial sounding a bit more stable than a moist adiabat to which is applied a total subsidence of a kilometer or two—or at most a few kilometers if evaporational or radiational cooling is significant.

Also:

The subsidence in the eye comes about as the eye of the intensifying tropical cyclone contracts—as it
is observed to do and as described by balanced models. Incorporation of eye air into both the moist downward cascade inside the eye and the convective updrafts in the eyewall above the inversion accounts for the mass lost as the eye contracts. The net loss is larger near the bottom of the eye. It thus forces about a centimeter per second of subsidence and gradual adiabatic warming and drying of the eye. Warming through this mechanism can account for no more than 30 hPa of pressure fall from the radius of maximum wind to the eye’s center.





Very interesting.
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Quoting beell:


Guess I read it diferently. Mass divergence into the eyewall below the eye inversion initiates the sinking motion. No doubt it is driven by latent heat.


Implying that there is an eyewall prior to any subsidence at the center of the storm? The first time I learned about eye formation in a college meteorology text, they clearly noted latent heat release raising pressures and initiating decent as being the process that initially forms the eye and establishes the defined eyewall region. After the eye has begun to take shape, then the process you mention accelerates the sinking. That's how I understood it from my text, anyway.
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Looks like Ma 0n might make it to a CAT 5. I don't think it will make a direct hit on the Japanese Islands. I see it turning more the the NE and east as it approaches the islands. It may come awfully close.


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Fun facts to know and tell from the paper's conclusion:

The soundings and interpretation presented here suggest strongly that the thermodynamics of tropical cyclone eyes do not obey conventional models in which air detrains from the eyewall near the tropopause, sinks through most of the depth of the troposphere inside the eye—acquiring moisture and momentum as needed to maintain its bulk properties—and is entrained back into the eyewall at the bottom. Conventional models assume implicitly that the time required to cycle air though the eye is short compared with the lifetime of the eye. The present observations show that the eye contains two air masses separated by an inversion. The air below the inversion exchanges momentum and moist enthalpy with the sea and mixes in complicated ways with air from the eyewall. The air above the inversion has been in the eye since the eye first formed. Its thermodynamic structure may be derived from an initial sounding a bit more stable than a moist adiabat to which is applied a total subsidence of a kilometer or two—or at most a few kilometers if evaporational or radiational cooling is significant.

Also:

The subsidence in the eye comes about as the eye of the intensifying tropical cyclone contracts—as it
is observed to do and as described by balanced models. Incorporation of eye air into both the moist downward cascade inside the eye and the convective updrafts in the eyewall above the inversion accounts for the mass lost as the eye contracts. The net loss is larger near the bottom of the eye. It thus forces about a centimeter per second of subsidence and gradual adiabatic warming and drying of the eye. Warming through this mechanism can account for no more than 30 hPa of pressure fall from the radius of maximum wind to the eye’s center.



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597. beell
Quoting Levi32:


And the convection can't draw mass out of the eye until there is an eye. During development, all the air converges at the center and rises. The inflow alone cannot create an eye, as before there is an eye, ideally the strongest convection is directly over the surface low pressure area. As soon as the mid-upper troposphere is warmed enough via latent heat release, pressures aloft are raised which initiates the decent. This decent can then be aided and accelerated by the inflow out of the sinking region into the surrounding thunderstorms, as the paper stated.


Guess I read it diferently. Mass divergence into the eyewall below the eye inversion initiates the sinking motion. No doubt it is driven by latent heat.
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Quoting KoritheMan:


That's because there isn't one. However, it is forecast to return over the next few days.
The TUTT is definitely still over the Atlantic

Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4357
Yes, the caption clearly states that it is showing the core of the hurricane, excluding the outer spiral bands. I must be that tired lol.
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Quoting beell:
Hey, Levi,

There's a first mention of a convergent flow aloft for Ma-On in the 03Z discussion.

: -)


Just read it. I'm glad they mentioned it.
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Quoting bappit:

Source. I. e., what flavor ice cream are you eating?

fyi -- Willoughby is not talking about cyclogenesis. His paper is where the diagram Patrap (post 529) gave a link to earlier comes from. It describes a mature cyclone.


I was under the impression that the paper and the other link to the image with a caption were separate writings. I took your question to be about thermally-induced decent described in the caption, and to me "thermally" implies heat-driven. There are certain processes which initiate an eye and several others that help maintain it after it has formed. Perhaps we are confusing the two somehow.
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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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