On the Radar
Jonathan is an emergency management coordinator with a passion for all things weather. He currently lives in south-central Pennsylvania with his wife and son.
2011 Weather Disasters Top $50 Billion in Damage
Nov 29, 2011
As 2011 draws to a close, the United States recorded nearly $50 billion in damage from natural disasters – a number that is sure to climb by years’ end. The nation’s 10 costliest disasters in 2011 were all weather related.
The costliest disaster to impact the country is the drought which has plagued the southern plains. According to the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), total direct losses to agriculture, cattle, and structures topped $10 billion – a number which is expected to climb as the event persists. The drought and associated wildfires, which began in the spring and summer, impacted the states of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Arkansas and Louisiana. The NCDC also reports wildfire fighting and suppression costs are approximately $1 million a day. More than 2,000 homes and 4,000 other structures have been lost as a result. Four deaths have also been blamed on the drought event.
The second costliest US disaster was a tornado outbreak which occurred from April 25-30. During this time, an estimated 343 tornadoes touched down across the country’s central and southern states, killing 321 people. Of those killed, 240 were in Alabama, including 78 who were killed when an EF-5 tornado hit northern Alabama. The outbreak also directly impacted several metropolitan areas including the cities of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The urban impact swelled the damage estimate to a staggering $10.2 billion.
Another tornado outbreak from May 22 to 27 accounts for the third costliest disaster in the nation. This outbreak impacted an area of the country stretching from Texas east to Georgia; north to Pennsylvania; west to Illinois; north to Wisconsin and Minnesota; and most states between. This outbreak includes the deadly EF-5 Joplin, MO tornado which struck the city on May 22 and killed at least 160 people – making it the single deadliest tornado known to strike the US. The outbreak saw an estimated 180 tornadoes which caused at least 177 deaths and $9.1 billion in damage.
Hurricane Irene was a Category 1 hurricane which made landfall over the Outer Banks of North Carolina in late August. The storm churned northward along the coast bringing torrential rains from North Carolina north to Vermont. Flooding and wind damage were widespread across the area resulting in $7.3 billion in damage, at least 45 deaths, and more than 7 million homes and businesses without power. The storm set the stage for additional flooding two weeks later from Tropical Storm Lee (which is not included in this damage report).
|Flooded farmland along the Mississippi River. Photo by the AP.
Mississippi River flooding ranks fifth in the year’s costliest disasters. Rainfall exceeding 300% the normal amount fell over the Ohio River Valley and combined with snowmelt, leading to historic flooding across the Mississippi River and its tributaries. At least two deaths are blamed on the flooding and damage estimates range from $3 million to $4 million dollars; however, these damage estimates are still preliminary according to the NCDC. Additional flood event stats include:
- Arkansas - $500 million in agricultural losses
- Memphis, TN - $320 million in damage
- Mississippi - $800 million in agricultural losses
- Birds Point-New Madrid Spillway, MO - $317 million in damage to agriculture and property as a result of a man-made demolition of a levee by the Army Corps of Engineers.
- Louisiana - $80 million for the first 30 days of flood fighting efforts
April saw three tornado outbreaks which make up the sixth, seventh, and eighth costliest disasters in the US. From April 4 to 5 an estimated 46 tornadoes raked across the Plains and southeast, spawning an estimated 46 twisters and causing more than $2.8 billion in damage and killing 9 people. From April 8 to 11 another tornado outbreak struck resulting in 59 tornadoes from the upper Midwest, across the lower Ohio Valley and into the Carolinas. This outbreak resulted in more than 59 tornadoes and remarkably no fatalities. The third outbreak, and eighth costliest, occurred form April 14 to 16 and struck the southern plains, southeast, and Mid-Atlantic States. The outbreak saw 177 approximately tornadoes and caused $2.1 billion in damage and resulted in 38 deaths. Of those who perished in the third tornado outbreak of April, 2011, 22 were in North Carolina.
The ninth costliest disaster this year was the Upper Midwest Flood. A heavy snowpack across the Northern Rockies combined with above average precipitation resulted in flooding on the Missouri and Souris Rivers. In Minot, ND, the Souris River forced 11,000 to flee the area. An estimated 4,000 homes were flooded as a result of flooding in Minot. Elsewhere, levees along the Missouri River were breached and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded. In the US, estimated losses are more than $2 billion and five deaths. More than $1 billion in agricultural and property losses were also reported in Canada.
Rounding out the costliest disasters in the US in 2011, is the Groundhog Day Blizzard. The storm blanketed an area from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast with up to two feet of snow and resulted in 36 deaths and $1.8 billion in damage.