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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 Worse than Thought

Dec 09, 2011

Recently I reviewed the ten one billion dollar disasters to impact the United States. Since that time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) increased the number of billion dollar disasters from ten to twelve; adding the June 18th-21st tornado outbreak and splitting the Texas wildfires from the heat/drought event of the spring and summer.

Damage from these twelve events is approximately $52 billion, with more than 1,000 people killed (nearly twice the yearly average of ~600). NOAA cautioned the number of billion dollar events could increase as Tropical Storm Lee and the Pre-Halloween Snowstorm, both of which impacted the east, have not been totally analyzed yet. Events totaling less than $1 billion in damage are not counted in this report.
Tornado in Nebraska. June 20, 2011.  Photo by: NOAA
The tornado outbreak of June 18th-21st saw 81 tornadoes tear across the Midwest. Combined with wind and hail damage from the associated storms across the Southeast, losses exceeded $1.3 billion with three deaths reported.
Wallows Fire, Arizona.  Photo from NOAA
NOAA also decided to separate the wildfires from the drought/heat event, even though the wildfires were a result of the conditions caused from the drought and extreme heat across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. One fire alone, the Bastrop Fire in Texas, consumed more than 1,500 homes. In Arizona, the Wallow Fire burned more than a half million acres, making it the largest fire on record in the state. New Mexico also recorded its largest fire on record this year with the Las Conchas Fire which scorched more than 150,000 acres and threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In Texas, more than 3 million acres burned with more than $750 million worth of property, timber, and agriculture lost. According to NOAA, "There were at least 5 related fatalities, and losses for wildfire activity across all three states exceed $1 billion."
Drought extent in the US during 2011.  Graphic from NOAA.
The drought and heat wave which impacted the states of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Louisiana saw direct losses to crops, livestock, and timber approaching $10 billion. "In Texas and Oklahoma many ranges and pastures were classified in ‘very poor’ condition during much of the 2011 growing season", NOAA stated in their report. While the area has seen relief from recent rainfall, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in both its drought outlook and winter outlook anticipate below-average precipitation across the affected area. This will certainly cause the losses from the drought to rise before years’ end.
As dire as NOAA’s 2011 disaster summary may seem, it is conservative compared to insurance broker AON Benfield’s November Catastrophe Recap. For 2011, the report AON Benfield lists at least 16 one billion dollar disasters. Included in that report were the Pre-Halloween Snowstorm with an estimated $3 billion in damage and 29 fatalities and Tropical Storm Lee with $1 billion in damage and 13 fatalities. Also included in AON Benfield’s report, but not in NOAA’s were two severe weather outbreaks. The first, from July 10th to July 14th impacted the Midwest, Rockies, and Plains and caused approximately $1.25 billion in damage. The second event occurred on August 18th and 19th and caused $1.1 billion in damage across the Plains states.
2011 was a year marred by violent, extreme weather. Such weather occurred on nearly every level, from small localized events such as tornadoes to climate altering events such as drought and extreme heat which continue to plague those in the southern Plains states and Southwest.   Many climate experts, including NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. warn the trend of extreme weather will continue




2011 By The Numbers (source:  NOAA:  Extreme Weather 2011)
  • 3 Million:  The number of residents who lost power during the Pre-Halloween snowstorm from October 29 - 31.
  • -31 degrees F - The record low temperature reported in Nowata, OK on Feb. 10, 2011, the coldest temperature on record for Okalhoma.
  • 343:  The largest outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded (April 25-28), which tore a path of death and destruction from Alabama to Virginia.
  • 199:  The number of confirmed tornadoes across the Southeast on April 27th - the most for any single day in the US.
  • 1 million+:  The number of acres burned across Texas during this year's record wildfire season.
  • $3 billion:  The potential cost in US dollars to rebuild Joplin, MO after nearly 75% of the city was damaged or destroyed by an EF-5 tornado on May 22.  158 people were killed, making it the 7th deadliest tornado in US history.
  • -7.97:  The value of the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) for Texas in September that indicated the most intense drought to affect the state in the 117 years since records were kept.
  • 300%:  Three times the amount of average precipitation (mainly rainfall) in the Ohio Valley that caused historic flooding along the Mississippi River.
  • 19:  The number of tropical storms in the Atlantic so far this year.  The third busiest since record keeping began in 1851.


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