by Andrew Freedman, Alyson Kenward and Mike Lemonick, cross-posted from Climate Central
Texas, Alabama and Missouri topped the list of states hardest hit by the unrelenting assault of extreme weather in 2011.
Severe weather across much of the nation has raised the question of whether global warming has already begun to influence shorter-term weather patterns, and the specter of even more extreme years to come as global temperatures continue to rise.
According to climate studies, the short answer is yes: the new climate environment created by global warming is more conducive to some extreme events, particularly heat waves and heavy precipitation events: these are now more likely to occur and be more intense when they do take place. Climate models have more difficulty predicting how climate change may be influencing other types of extremes, such as severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, but a warming climate provides more fuel to these events in the form of increased water vapor and heat in the atmosphere.
And those extreme events — searing heat waves, parching drought, deadly tornadoes, blizzards and floods — cost billions of dollars in damage, affected millions of lives and tragically, killed more than a thousand people across the U.S.
By some measures, 2011 was the most extreme year for the U.S. since reliable record-keeping began in the 19thcentury — and the costs have been enormous: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2011 set a record for the most billion dollar disasters in a single year. There were 12, breaking the old record of nine set in 2009. The aggregate damage from these 12 events totals at least $52 billion, NOAA found.
While extreme weather knows no boundaries, and the impact of those events was felt coast to coast, Climate Central looked at the number of extreme events that affected each state to determine the 10 states that were clobbered the worst. According to Climate Central’s analysis, Texas tops that list of hardest hit, with a costly — and deadly — combination of intense drought, a punishing heat wave, the worst wildfires in state history, and plenty of tornadoes. Rounding out the top 10 was Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas, Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey.
Climate Central’s analysis factored the death toll in each state, damage costs, the disruption caused to daily life, and how unusual the events were compared with what transpires in an average year.
But for these 10 states, little of what transpired was average as extreme weather rewrote the record books in 2011.