Tag Archives: tornados

Unprecendented Weather Disasters Plague America

US counts the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, there have been 10 major disasters this year

John Vidal, environment editor

As deadly fires continue to burn across bone-dry Texas and eight inches of rain from tropical storm Lee falls on New Orleans, the US is beginning to count the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes.

Ever since a massive blizzard causing $2bn of damage paralysed cities from Chicago to the north-east in January, nearly every month has been marked by a $1b+-weather catastrophe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (Noaa), there have been 10 major disasters already this year, leaving more than 700 people dead and property damage of over $35bn (£22bn).

In the past 31 years the mainland states have suffered 99 weather-related disasters where overall damages and economic costs were over $1bn. This year has seen three times as many than as usual.

Noaa will release its August data next week but Summer 2011 is expected to be the warmest on record. Chris Burt, author and leading weather historian, has complied a list of more than 40 cities and towns that have experienced record temperatures this year.

“So many heat records of various types have been shattered this past summer that it is impossible to quantify them,” he said. “Not since the great heat waves of 1934 and 1936 has the US seen so many heat-related records broken as occurred this summer. The back-to-back nature of the intensity of the past two summers should raise some interesting questions, questions I am not qualified to address.”

This year, the UN World Meteorological Organisation said 2010 was the warmest year on record, confirming a “significant” long-term trend of global warming and producing exceptional weather variations.

The insurance company Munich Re said in the first six months of the year there were 98 natural disasters in the US, about double the average of the 1990s.

“The increasing impacts of natural disasters, as seen this year, are a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods at risk. Severe weather represents a very real threat to public safety,” said Jack Hayes, director of Noaa’s National Weather Service.

But the US is not alone. 2011 has seen the deepest drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa which has contributed to a famine in Somalia and 10 million people affected in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda. Southern Africa, however, experienced unusually heavy rainfall.

Latin America has suffered a series of disasters. More than 500 people died in some of Brazil’s worst rainstorms and mudslides in January, and Columbia faced what it called its worst-ever natural disaster when months of rain and floods devastated the north of the country. Meanwhile Mexico and much of central America experienced one of their deepest droughts in many years.

Korea, the Philippines, parts of China have been racked with some of the worst storms in a century, with flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain .

2011 has also seen a series of major non-weather-related natural disasters. The worst, by some way, was the Japanese tsunami which killed at least 12,000 people and devastated the country. However, 6.2 or above earthquakes have hit New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, the Fox Islands, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Indonesia, Fiji, Thailand, Burma, Vanuatu, Argentina, Chile and Iran in the first six months of 2011. Smaller ones have hit Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands.

In addition the Arctic ice melt this year hit a record in July and is expected to the second or third greatest ever recorded, says the US national snow and ice data centre.

• This article was amended on 05 September 2011. The original stated the death toll for the Japanese tsunami was 1,200,000 instead of 12,000. This has been corrected

A year of US disasters – 2011 so far

• Hurricane Irene, August 20-29. Over $7bn and around 50 deaths.

• Upper Midwest flooding. The Missouri and Souris rivers overflowed in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Damages: $2bn.

• Mississippi river flooding, spring and summer. Damages neared $4bn.

• Drought and heatwave in Texas, Oklahoma. Over $5bn.

• Tornadoes in midwest and south-east in May kill 177 and cost more than $7bn in losses.

• Tornadoes in the Ohio Valley, south-east and midwest on April devastate the city of Tuscaloosa, kill 32 and cause more than $9bn in damages.

• Tornadoes hit from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania 14–16 April. Toll: $2bn in damages.

• 59 tornadoes in midwest and north-east April 8-11. Damages: $2.2bn.

• 46 tornadoes in central and southern states 4 and 5 April. Toll: $2.3bn in damages.

• Blizzard late January paralyse cities from Chicago to the north-east. Toll: 36 deaths and more than $2bn in damages.

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I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore Toto: 2011 deadliest Tornado Season since 1953

By TIMOTHY W. MARTIN And ROBERT LEE HOTZ

Despite the heavy toll, the storm system that spawned the tornado wasn’t unusual for this time of year, say meteorologists. The high death toll resulted from the twister’s path through a commercial area including a hospital, a nursing home, a row of crowded restaurants and several large stores. The winds, while as high as 198 miles per hour, weren’t unusual for powerful springtime tornadoes in parts of the U.S.

Highlighting the unpredictability of such lethal storms, the weeks before the twister marked an unusual lull in the number of tornadoes that normally occur this time of year, experts said. More than half the season’s severe tornadoes usually strike in May and June. During the first three weeks of May, however, the number of powerful twisters had dipped to historic lows, federal meteorologists said.

“We were so far below normal in the first three weeks of May that we may not catch up to normal for the month,” said meteorologist Harold Brooks at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

April was especially busy, contributing to one of the most severe spring tornado seasons on record. NOAA officials estimate there have been almost 1,000 tornadoes this year, double the total of a typical year, with storms raging from Missouri to North Carolina. This year’s tally of 50 fatal tornadoes compares with about 20 in an average year.

Forecasters expect severe thunderstorms, which can spawn tornadoes, to persist for the next several days, heightening the potential for more twisters before the storm system is blown out to sea and dissipates.

Strong tornadoes are “likely” Tuesday over Oklahoma, Kansas, and other areas, with the storm system moving eastward Wednesday to Southeast Missouri, Central Illinois, and surrounding states, the National Weather Service said.

Tornadoes moved through the Midwest, damaging a hospital, hundreds of homes and businesses, and a helicopter.

The twister in Joplin comes on the heels last month of the largest one-day outbreak of tornadoes to date, when 226 twisters were reported during a single 24-hour period on April 27, largely in Alabama and Mississippi. All told, the cluster of tornadoes, which continued into the following day, killed more than 340 people.

This spring’s outbreak surpasses any since 1953, when 519 people were killed at a time when forecasters lacked the technology and ability to warn people well before storms hit. The 1953 toll included 116 people killed when a tornado struck Flint, Mich., 114 from one in Waco, Texas, and 90 from a tornado in Worcester, Mass. The toll from that season was so heavy that it prompted the federal government to help set up ground-based radar systems that allowed local weather forecasters to track storms across regions, rather than relying solely on observational reports from weather bureaus outside their areas.

Final numbers on tornadoes and deaths this year won’t be available for months because early tallies include duplicate reports—and some unreported storms. NOAA officials warn that for now the tornado numbers will appear high until local weather forecasters can confirm the final count.

Write to Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]

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