It’s been an unprecedented year for weather disasters in the United States, with the dangerous portion of hurricane season still to come. We’ve already seen nine billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2011. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) June disaster report
estimates that, through May, 2011 is the costliest year since they began tracking billion-dollar disasters in 1980. The cost of the disasters through May could be as high as $32 billion, compared to a typical year-to-date cost of $6 billion. 2011 to-date now ties the entire year of 2008 for the most billion-dollar weather disasters in one year. Of course, this number could go up if we see some hurricane landfalls this year.
Here are NCDC’s estimates of the top-end damages from 2011’s billion-dollar weather disasters so far:
Missouri River Flooding
Snowfall was abnormally heavy in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and Wyoming this past winter (over 200% of average), and record rains fell over the Upper Midwest this Spring, the effects of which continue to be felt along the Missouri River. In May, the Army Corps of engineers began releasing a record amount of water through the dams above Gavins Point, including the Garrison Dam in Central North Dakota. The flooding has kept many bridges closed, making it impossible to cross the river for a hundred miles at a time in some places.
Texas Drought & Wildfires
Texas is in the midst of one of the worst droughts of its history. As of June 28, 2011, 91% of Texas was in extreme or greater drought, and 47% of the state was in an “exceptional drought,” the most severe category. In April and May of 2011, wildfires burned over 3 million acres across the state. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has declared a State of Disaster every month since December 2010. As of June 16, NCDC estimates that the drought and fires in Texas have cost $3.0 billion—an amount that is likely to rise as the event continues.
Mississippi River Flooding
Between the spring snow-melt and two storms that dumped massive amounts of rain in the Mississippi watershed in April, the Mississippi was in for a flood of record proportions. The river began to bulge by the beginning of May, flooding every state from Illinois to Louisiana and Mississippi. A federal disaster was declared by the President in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. In an effort to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway on May 14, which flooded 4,600 square miles of Louisiana. The NCDC estimates $4 billion in damages from this flood, although the final amount might not be fully realized yet.
An overflowing Mississippi River at Memphis, Tennessee on May 8, 2011.
Midwest/Southeast Tornado Outbreak (May 22-27)
This six-day tornado outbreak killed approximately 180 people, and includes the EF-5 tornadoes that rolled through Joplin, Missouri on May 22, and El Reno, Oklahoma on May 24. Tornadoes in this storm were spawned from central Texas to the Upper Midwest. The whole event is estimated to have done $7 billion in damages.
2011 Super Outbreak (April 25-30)
Most of the tornadoes spawned in this storm happened in the Southeast, from Mississippi to Virginia, though a total of 334 tornadoes have been confirmed in 21 states from Texas to New York. April 27th, in particular, was a notably destructive and deadly day, as 188 tornadoes touched down in the Southeast, four of which were rated EF-5. The NCDC estimates that the Super Outbreak resulted in at least $5.5 billion in damages.
Just a portion of the aftermath from the EF-4 tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa, Alabama
on April 27, 2011. Image credit: Wikipedia
Midwest/Southeast Tornado Outbreak (April 14-16)
This storm generated at least 200 tornadoes across 16 states in mid-April, leading to 38 deaths. The system moved quickly from the Plains to the Mid-Atlantic, where the most notable tornado of the outbreak occurred near Raleigh, North Carolina. This tornado was rain-wrapped as it headed in the direction of Raleigh, and was later rated an EF-3. The NCDC estimates that this outbreak resulted in $2 billion in damages.
Southeast/Midwest Severe Storms (April 8-11)
Tornadoes were reported in Virginia and Iowa from April 8-11. A significant day of severe weather occurred on April 9th, as a powerful storm over the Upper Midwest spawned tornadoes in Iowa. The strongest of these tornadoes was the huge, 3/4 mile-wide tornado that plowed through the tiny town of Mapleton, Iowa on Saturday evening, leaving a trail of destruction 3.5 miles long. The tornado, preliminarily rated as an EF-3 with 136 – 165 mph winds, flattened 20% of the town of 1200 residents and damaged half of the buildings. The NCDC estimates that this weekend of severe weather caused $2.2 billion in damages.
Midwest/Southeast Severe Storms (April 4-5)
Damaging straight-line winds and tornadoes were spawned by a storm that pushed through the central U.S. in early April. Power outages were extensive across the southern and eastern U.S., and many people were killed by falling trees and branches. Tornadoes touched down in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. 1,318 reports of damaging wind were submitted to local Weather Service offices on April 4th alone. The NCDC estimates that this tornado and wind event caused $2 billion in damages.
Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011
This storm stretched from northeast Mexico to Canada, but is most memorable for its effect on Chicago, where 1-2 feet of snow fell, combined with winds over 60 mph which led to blizzard conditions. 21.2 inches of snow fell at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, making it the third largest snowfall total in Chicago history. Blizzard conditions were reported in many other large cities during the storm’s lifetime, including Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York. This storm also brought ice and wintry mix as far south as Albuquerque, Dallas, and Houston. At least 36 deaths were caused by this storm, most of which were vehicle-related. NCDC estimates this storm did at least $3.9 billion in damage.
The Windy City on February 1, 2011 during the Groundhog Day Blizzard.
NHC Invest 90L, Born Again
Invest 90L spiked in thunderstorm activity and circulation yesterday, leading NHC to re-invest the system. 90L is still south of Cuba moving ever-so-slowly to the west. While low level (850mb) circulation has increased since yesterday morning, the system is tilted southeast with height. This is likely due to the westerly wind shear it’s facing right now. As the system moves into the Gulf, shear will become more favorable (if there’s shear present, easterly is better than westerly). The wave is still moist and moisture is expected to remain high (4 to 5.5 g/kg specific humidity) as it tracks into the Gulf of Mexico.
Again this morning, none of the models are suggesting meaningful development of Invest 90L. However, the GFS (finally) has come around to resolving the circulation at all. Dr. Rob Carver and I spoke this morning, and we came to the conclusion that the lack of observations in this region, combined with the small size of the system, is causing the models to not have the best handle on the situation. The Hurricane Center has a Hurricane Hunter mission scheduled for 18z (2pm EDT) tomorrow, after which we could see the models starting to favor development again. Today the Hurricane Center is forecasting a 20% chance of development over the next 48 hours. I agree with that, but I also think that beyond 48 hours this wave is going to have a better shot at developing a closed circulation at the surface.