The 11 ‘billion-dollar’ weather disasters of 2012

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a preliminary list of the most extreme weather events in the US of 2012.

Eleven events were selected because they crossed the $1 billion threshold in losses. These include seven severe weather/tornado events, two tropical storm/hurricanes, and the yearlong drought with associated wildfires. The total loss of life from the eleven is 349 deaths, with Hurricane Sandy causing the most (131 deaths) along with the summer heat wave and associated drought (123 deaths). 

Sandy and the yearlong drought are also estimated to have caused the greatest economic losses although exact figures are still being calculated by NOAA. However, the scale of these two events indicates that 2012 will likely be more costly than 2011, despite the fact that there were 14 billion-dollar disasters in 2011. 

“Given how big these events are likely to be, NOAA estimates 2012 will surpass 2011 (exceeding $60 billion) in terms of aggregate costs for annual billion-dollar disasters, even with fewer number of billion-dollar disasters,” says NOAA.

The list follows predictions that extreme weather events are likely to continue in 2013, driven by continuing changes in the world’s climate. The most expensive year to date was in 2005 with losses exceeding $187 billion when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Dennis hit Florida and the Gulf Coast states.

One of the biggest disasters, the 2012 drought, has affected more than half the country, making it the most extensive drought to hit the US since the 1930s. It has caused the most damage in the central states such as Kansas and Missouri, where most of the country’s agricultural crops such as soybeans and sorghum are produced. The associated summer heat wave caused 123 deaths although this figure may rise as further deaths due to heat stress are still unknown.

The other major disaster, Hurricane Sandy, which hit the northwestern states at the end of October caused damage with its high winds and coastal storm surges. Further damages were caused when Sandy merged with another storm to cause widespread disruption to water and electricity in major cities such as New York. It also forced the New York Stock Exchange to close for two consecutive days; the last time this happened was in 1888 due to a major winter storm. 

Further details on all the events can be found on NOAA’s website

The full list of events:

  • Southeast/Ohio Valley Tornadoes — March 2–3 2012
  • Texas Tornadoes — April 2–3 2012
  • Great Plains Tornadoes — April 13–14 2012
  • Midwest/Ohio Valley Severe Weather — April 28–May 1 2012
  • Southern Plains/Midwest/Northeast Severe Weather — May 25–30 2012
  • Rockies/Southwest Severe Weather — June 6–12 2012
  • Plains/East/Northeast Severe Weather (“Derecho”) — June 29–July 2 2012
  • Hurricane Isaac — August 26–31 2012
  • Western Wildfires — Summer–Fall, 2012
  • Hurricane Sandy — October 29–31 2012
  • U.S. Drought/Heatwave — throughout 2012