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.

2011 a Record-Breaker for Extreme (and Costly) Weather 7 December,2011Dan Brekke


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area’s transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED’s comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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