The year 2011 brought the most billion-dollar climate disasters to the United States ever, piling history-making events on top of each other to catastrophic results. The litany of disaster included a scorching drought that rivaled the Dust Bowl summer of 1936, a tornado season twice as bad as the great 1974 tornado outbreak, and flooding worse than the the great 1927 flood on the Mississippi River. This year of disaster was the result of the unlimited burning of fossil fuels, which has trapped increasing amounts of heat in the atmosphere, disrupting our climate system.
In an interview with PBS News Hour, Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters described the effect of the hundreds of billions of tons of global warming pollution as being like “steroids for the atmosphere,” intensifying extreme weather to unprecedented results:
We look at heat waves, droughts, and flooding events. They all tend to get increased when you have this extra energy in the atmosphere. I call it being on steroids for the atmosphere. Normally, you have the everyday ups and downs of the weather, but if you pack a little bit of extra punch in there, it’s like a baseball hitter who’s on steroids. You expect to see a big home run total maybe from this slugger, but if you add a little bit of extra oomph to his swing by putting him on steroids, now we can have an unprecedented season, a 70 home run season. And that’s the way I look at this year. We had an unprecedented weather year that I don’t think would have happened unless we had had an extra bit of energy in the atmosphere due to climate change and global warming.
Watch the program:
Nationwide, more than 6,000 heat records were broken this year. On average, the U.S. has three or four events every year that are considered major natural disasters. But, this year, there were at least fourteen billion-dollar disasters. Damages are expected to exceed $53 billion.