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14 billion-dollar weather disasters for the U.S. in 2011

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 3:28 PM GMT on January 26, 2012

The tally of billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. during the crazy weather year of 2011 has grown to fourteen, and may reach fifteen, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center announced last week. The fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011 easily surpass the previous record of nine such disasters, set in 2008. Since 1980, the U.S. has averaged 3.5 billion-dollar weather disasters per year. The two new billion-dollar disasters of 2011:

Tropical Storm Lee, early September, 2011: Wind and flood damage across the southeast (LA, MS, AL, GA, TN) but considerably more damage from record flooding across the northeast (PA, NY, NJ, CT, VA, MD). Pennsylvania and New York were most affected. Total losses exceed $1.0 billion; 21 deaths.

Rockies and Midwest Severe Weather, July 10-14, 2011: An outbreak of tornadoes, hail, and high wind caused damage east of the Rockies and across the central plains (CO, WY, IA, IL, MI, MN, OH). Total losses exceed $1.0 billion; 2 deaths.

The total costs of these fourteen disasters is $55 billion, tying 2011 with 2004 for fourth place for most costly year for billion-dollar weather disasters in history. The only costlier years were 2005 (Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma); 1988 (Midwest drought); and 2008 (Hurricanes Ike and Gustav.) NCDC says they are still analyzing the late-October snowstorm that hit New England to see if it was a billion dollar disaster. Insurance broker AON Benfield puts damages from this event at $3 billion, so it is likely that NCDC will add at least one more billion-dollar disaster to 2011's tally.

For those interested, NOAA has a full description of the 14 billion-dollar weather disasters of 2011, plus a list of their Top Ten Global Weather Events of 2011 and Top Ten U.S. Weather Events of 2011.

Figure 1. Front Street Bridge on the Susquehanna River in Vestal, NY, immediately following the flood of September 8, 2011, caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. Image credit: USGS, New York.

My other posts looking back at the remarkable weather events of 2011
Extreme temperatures of 2011: 7 national all-time heat records; 1 cold record
U.S. weather in 2011: unprecedented rains and wet/dry extremes
Top ten global weather events of 2011
2011: Year of the Tornado
Deadliest weather disaster of 2011: the East African drought
Tropical Storm Lee's flood in Binghamton: was global warming the final straw?
Wettest year on record in Philadelphia; 2011 sets record for wet/dry extremes in U.S.
Hurricane Irene: New York City dodges a potential storm surge mega-disaster

Figure 2. The new "Blue Marble" image of Earth on January 4, 2012, as seen by the VIIRS instrument on the new Suomi NPP satellite. Image credit: NASA.

Spectacular "Blue Marble" image of Earth released
A new polar orbiting satellite has returned a stunning true-color image of the Earth taken on January 4, 2012. The Suomi NPP satellite, launched on October 28, 2011, is the first one designed to both take measurements to improve short-term weather forecasts, and collect data to increase understanding of long-term climate change. The VIIRS instrument on the satellite collected a series of true-color images of the Western Hemisphere on January 4 that were stitched together to create a new "Blue Marble" image of Earth, like the ones taken by the Apollo astronauts in the 1970s.

The image is very interesting meteorologically, and extremely strange. It is obvious that it is a winter image, as revealed by the large area of stratocumulus clouds off the U.S. East Coast all the way to South Florida, caused by cold Canadian air blowing offshore. However, the U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s. NOAA's Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service shows that only one state--Washington--had areas where precipitation accumulated more than 0.25" on January 4, 2012, which is an extraordinary occurrence for a January day.

Jeff Masters

Extreme Weather

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.