The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the agency that goes by the user-friendly handle of NOAA (pronounced “Noah”)—broke some news today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

NOAA's summary of the costliest U.S. weather and climate disasters since 1980. Click for larger image.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco announced that by the agency’s calculations, the United States has suffered a dozen “billion-dollar” weather events this year. That’s a record, beating out the previous title-holder, 2008, when nine billion-dollar events went into the books. Cumulative losses from weather events this year have topped $50 billion, NOAA says.

Lubchenco said some of the nation’s devastating weather events this year appear to be related to climate change.

“I think people have to appreciate how very bizarre the weather has been this year,” she said. “And it’s pretty clear that for some of those events like heat waves, droughts, really big intensive rainfall events—those we can connect the dots to climate change pretty convincingly.”

Among this year’s dozen billion-dollar weather disasters: half a dozen tornado outbreaks, including a twister that killed about 160 people in Joplin, Mo., and a wave of twisters that killed about 320 people in Alabama; the epic flooding in New England triggered by the remnants of Hurricane Irene; widespread flooding throughout the Missouri and Lower Mississippi river basins; and the ongoing drought afflicting much of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Kansas.

In dollar terms, this year’s estimated $50 billion of losses due to weather disaster ranks far behind our most costly weather year, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the neighboring Gulf of Mexico coast. Losses that year topped $175 billion. NOAA also says that between 1980 and 2010, the United States experienced 99 weather events that caused $1 billion or more in inflation-adjusted damages—freezes, heat waves, fires, droughts, floods, blizzards, and hurricanes— those 99 events caused a cumulative loss of $725 billion.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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