A New Record: 14 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in 2011

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"A New Record: 14 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in 2011"

In September 2010, Munich Re one of the world’s leading reinsurers, wrotethe only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.

In January, they summed up 2010 this way:  “The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change.”

Last week meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters analyzed 2011, “Fourteen U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters in 2011: a new record,” which I excerpt below:

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It’s time to add another billion-dollar weather disaster to the growing 2011 total of these costly disasters: the extraordinary early-season Northeast U.S. snowstorm of October 29, which dumped up to 32 inches of snow, brought winds gusts of 70 mph to the coast, and killed at least 22 people….  The damage estimate in Connecticut alone is $3 billion, far more than the damage Hurricane Irene did to the state. Hundreds of thousands still remain without power a week after the storm, with full electricity not expected to be restored until Monday.

The October 29 snow storm brings the 2011 tally of U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters to fourteen, thoroughly smashing the previous record of nine such disasters, set in 2008. Between 1980 – 2010, the U.S. averaged 3.5 of these weather disasters per year. Through August, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) estimated that ten weather disasters costing at least $1 billion had hit the U.S., at total cost of up to $45 billion. However, the October 29 snow storm brings us up to eleven billion-dollar disasters, and a new disaster analysis done by global reinsurance company AON Benfield adds three more.

Flood damage from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee in the Northeast on September 8 is now estimated at more than $1 billion, and two outbreaks of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes–one in April and one in June–now have damage estimates exceeding $1 billion. A remarkable seven severe thunderstorm/tornado outbreaks did more than $1 billion each in damage in 2011, and an eighth outbreak July 10 – 14 came close, with damages of $900 million. In total, the fourteen billion-dollar disasters killed 675 people. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods in these fourteen disasters killed over 600 people, putting 2011 into fourth place since 1940 for most deaths by severe storms. Only 2005, with over 1,000 deaths caused by Katrina, 1969, with over 700 hurricane and flood-related deaths, and 1972, with 676 hurricane and flood-related deaths, were deadlier years for storms, according to NOAA. The fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters of 2011 caused $53 billion in damage, putting 2011 in fifth place for most damages from billion-dollar weather disasters. The top damage years, according to NCDC in adjusted 2011 dollars, were 2005 (the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma), 2008 (Hurricane Ike), 1988 (Midwest drought), and 1980 (Midwest drought). With nearly two months remaining in 2011, the potential exists for more billion-dollar weather disasters this year….

Here are AON Benfield’s estimates of the damages and NCDC’s estimates of the death tolls from 2011’s fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters (a clickable version of this table with information on each disaster is available on our severe weather resource page):

No, not all of those events can be attributable to climate change, but climate change almost certainly made most of them worse (see “Tornadoes, extreme weather, and climate change“).  As climatologist Kevin Trenberth always reminds us:

One of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.

And lumping the Texas drought and wildfires as one single disaster suggests, if nothing else, the scale of the extreme weather catastrophes to come (see “Nature Publishes My Piece on Dust-Bowlification and the Grave Threat It Poses to Food Security“).

H/t Tamino for the top chart.

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28 Responses to A New Record: 14 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in 2011

  1. Colorado Bob says:

    The Great Texas Drought –
    $5.2 billion to date …….
    The pecan part of this bill came in :

    Pecans are the only major tree nut native to the U.S., which produces about 80 percent of the world’s crop. The harvest season begins in the fall in Georgia and Florida and ends in February in New Mexico. Georgia is usually the biggest pecan producer. Other top states include Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

    Drought dramatically reduced the pecan crop in many of those states this year. Production in Texas, which has had a record drought, dropped the most, from 70 million pounds last year to an estimated 40 million pounds this year. In Louisiana, production plunged from 20 million pounds last year to an estimated 9 million pounds this year.

    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2011/11/07/drought_demand_from_china_drive_up_pecan_prices/

    • Richard L says:

      I understand farmers typically receive $0.10 per dollar retail for crop food (not sure about beef production) so the $5-billion loss may be the farmers loss (measured by insurance claims?) so the retail food cost/loss may be as high as $50-billion from this drought….. any one know for sure on this?

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    The price tag for TS “Lee” – $1 Billion :

    Some more costs not on the tab yet –
    The Annapolis Capital reported Sunday that watermen who’ve been working in the South River and other local Western Shore waters say their oyster tongs and dredges are coming up full of empty shells.

    The early September storm dumped nearly 29 trillion gallons of rain on the mid-Atlantic region, by one estimate, flooding the upper Bay with fresh water and flushing an estimated 4 million tons of sediment into it from the Susquehanna River alone. The dirt and debris turned the water a chocolate brown, and the surge of fresh water from rivers lowered salinity levels to near zero for weeks after the storm. Oysters don’t grow or reproduce well in water with low salinity, and can even die if trapped in fresh water for extended periods of time.

    http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/features/green/2011/11/dnr_investigating_stormrelated.html

  3. Peter Mizla says:

    The weather in the NE is following climate predictions made for decade or more by climate scientists- more precipitation. More extreme storms. New England lies at the border between the Polar high to the north, and the subtropical high to the south- the ocean is to the south and east. The region has always been stormy- but in this ‘new era’ that is going to be amplified, and we are seeing the beginning of that now.

    The predictions for the lower Great Pains and SW- also coming home to roost. More heat and drought.

    The CEO of Connecticut Light & Power Jeff Butler has been hung out to dry here by the Governor- Dannel Malloy http://www.courant.com/

    This was a ‘one in 500 year storm’ so says Butler, in explaining the slow pace at restorations for many state residents.

    The Governor was asked at a News Conference a few days ago by a reporter about the connection of this catastrophe to ‘global warming’- the Governor said he ‘believed in such a link’ and believed what Al Gore has said.

    That being so- I spoke to one of the Governors aides in March of this year- and discussed climate change. Warning that the costs would go through the roof to adapt to a rapidly changing Climate. This Aide must now think I have psychic powers. If he has any sense, he better begin to listen- its going to become far worse.

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    The Great Texas Drought –
    $5.2 billion to date …….

    This isn’t on that tab either :
    Millions of monarch butterflies are on the move right now, heading from the United States to central Mexico for the winter. But this year’s drought in Texas is making their trip more difficult.

    The drought means flowering gardens are few and far between. The monarchs need nectar to fuel their yearly trip south.

    In late December, scientists in Mexico will measure the butterfly population based on the amount of forest they cover. They say this year, the numbers could be lower.

    Experts are also concerned because the Texas drought is expected to continue in the spring when the monarchs return north to reproduce.

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/environment&id=8419942

    • Colorado Bob says:

      Last year I joined a fellow in Kansas and bought a seed kit for Monarchs. Here’s his e-mail blast this fall :
      Monarch Population Status – September 2011
      by Chip Taylor – Director, Monarch Watch

      The following is a brief update on the status of the eastern monarch population.

      The leading edge of the migration has now reached northern Texas. As many of you know, we attempt to follow the monarch population closely. Based on our experience, and ongoing data analysis of monarch numbers, we offer opinions/projections on what to expect in the near future based on our understanding of how the monarch populations have been affected by patterns of temperature and rainfall in the preceding months.

      Late in the spring I started predicting a small migration this fall. In the Premigration Newsletter sent out with the Monarch Watch Tagging Kits, I predicted that overwintering population in Mexico would be similar in size to that of the low populations recorded in 2004 (2.19 hectares) and 2009 (1.92 hectares). It was clear that the monarch numbers in New England and recorded at Cape May would be low this fall, and that the numbers originating in the central region would be slightly better than those of the eastern Dakotas through Wisconsin but still low relative to long term numbers. The New England/Cape May projection appears to be correct as the numbers are down in this region. I was wrong about the central region (Ontario, MI, OH, IN, IL) – fewer monarchs appear to have been produced in this area than I expected. Wisconsin numbers also appear to be down.

      The surprise is the eastern Dakotas and western MN. This area seems to be the source of a large number of the monarchs moving through the lower midwest at this time. Nevertheless, the overall numbers are down. But, it gets worse. The migration is just beginning to navigate a 1000 miles of hell – a nearly flowerless/nectarless and waterless expanse of central KS, OK, TX, and NE MX (see Drought Monitor at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/).

      It is too late for rains to change the situation in TX and northern MX. Monarchs will make it to the overwintering sites but their numbers will be significantly reduced by these conditions. My expectation is that that the overwintering numbers will be the lowest ever (previous low 1.92 hectares) and that the arriving butterflies will be in relatively poor shape with low fat reserves. If the average condition (mass) of the overwintering monarchs is lower than average, mortality during the winter could also be high. Other scenarios could include low returning numbers next spring with a reduced reproductive capacity due to low fat reserves. Keep your fingers crossed that there are no winter storms in MX that could make matters worse.

      It will be interesting to see how monarchs cope with the lack of nectar and water as they move through TX. Monarchs, like most insects, have hygroreceptors (sense organs that are sensitive to humidity gradients); therefore, when conditions are extremely dry, we might expect monarchs to seek out the darkest and most humid habitats. If this plays out, most monarchs will accumulate in drainages, along rivers, move in an out of forests, and concentrate around other water sources.

      As I pointed out in the Premigration Newsletter (and the August Population Status blog article), there is a new reality, or expectation, regarding the size of the overwintering population in MX. It now appears that winter populations will be in the range of 2-6 hectares (down from the long term average of 7.24) with 6 hectares being reached only during the most favorable conditions. In the near term, the average overwintering population will be close to 3 hectares. As we pointed out recently (Brower et al. 2011), the decline is related to the loss of habitat, particularly the rapid adoption of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops. The majority of these crops are planted within the summer (June-August) breeding area for the monarch population. In spite of weed control methods prior to 1996, when HT crops were first introduced, milkweed persisted in these croplands at a low level where they provided an excellent resource for monarchs. With the planting of HT engineered corn and soy followed by the use of glyphosate to control weeds, milkweed has been almost completely eliminated from these crops. At present, the total area of HT crops is larger than that of any state except TX and AK, or about 4 times the state of IL). The decline in the monarch population first became noticeable in 2004 when the percentage of HT corn and soy acreage exceeded 50% of all acreage for these crops.

      Low monarch numbers in MX this winter and in the future means that the integrity of the overwintering sites is now more important than ever and that planting milkweeds in gardens and incorporating these plants in restoration projects either as seeds or plugs should receive the highest priority.

      So what can you do?

      – Pledge your support of Monarch Watch via our 2011 fundraising campaign (3 days remain): http://monarchwatch.org/chip

      – Create a Monarch Waystation habitat: http://monarchwatch.org/waystations

      – Join the Bring Back the Monarchs campaign: http://bringbackthemonarchs.org

  5. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Spread that graph far and wide folks, ME

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    Breaking News …….
    Tall Blond Oil Woman Says:
    The Oklahoma earth quakes have nothing to do with 80 odd years of oil & gas production in the State of Oklahoma.

    Or the the new 21st century method , where in millions of gallons of water & “chemicals” are used to split rocks 2 miles in the ground.

    Surely these can’t be looked at.

  7. Colorado Bob says:

    No one has ever done one study of land forms “slumping” from pumping 100 years liquids & gas from the earth.

    Anywhere.

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    I really don’t like that Tall Blond in the “Oil Elevator”.

    She is ripe for ruin.

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    She is ripe for ruin……….

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Can’t tell you about heat waves (although there is a recent PNAS paper about that). Can tell you about rain; it will rain much harder [in places where it is going to rain]. See
    Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes
    Seung-Ki Min, Xuebin Zhang, Francis W. Zwiers & Gabriele C. Hegerl
    in a recent issue of Nature. It appears that the big GCMs underestimate extreme rainfall and for the Northern Hemisphere land areas (the area studied) the rainfall appears to be growing in intensity approximately exponentially.

    So its gonna be a hard rain.
    And then an even harder one.
    And then…

    • Colorado Bob says:

      DB –
      I asked my friend at Newsvine “Retired Physicist” about just how fast can it rain ?
      Answer was , … There is no answer.
      The current real world number …… Last Sept., 2010 in Korea.
      8.75 inches in one hour.

      • Joan Savage says:

        Check out the rainfall for La Réunion Island in 2007.
        La Réunion is world record holder for 72 hour rainfall, 3.929m (154.7″),
        and for 96 hour rainfall, 4.869m (191.7″).

        The one hour record is 305mm (12.0″) set in 1947 in Holt, Missouri.

        Archived world records
        http://wmo.asu.edu/

        Intro to World Meteorological Association records:
        http://www.wmo.int/pages/themes/climate/climate_variability_extremes.php

        The formula for the world maximum depth-duration relation:
        Precipitation (inches) = 237 times the Duration (minutes) raised to 0.475 power.
        P = 237 D ^ 0.475
        pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri98-4044/pdf/98-4044.pdf

      • Joan Savage says:

        What’s real news is the freaking frequency of the deluges.
        We need numbers for that! It’s stunning to see you and prokaryotes pull in news report after news report.

        The WMO archive might have frequency in the data base, and it would be great to see a work up on them.

    • Colorado Bob says:

      That Korea number came on the heels of this report :
      Sun Nov 21, 2010 10:13 AM CST
      RE The rain in the Swat Valley at the beginning , 16 feet of rain .

      Residents describing the deluge say it began with a constant, pounding rain that started around July 28 and continued for a week. There were brief pauses of stifling heat and humidity, quickly followed by more rain. It went on that way for over a month. The center of Nowshera was flooded in some places up to 10 feet above street level.

      Government officials say that from July 28 to Aug. 3, parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded almost 12 feet of rainfall in one week. The province normally averages slightly above 3 feet for an entire year.

      http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2010/10/12/12climatewire-the-night-the-river-roared-in-like-a-demon-23379.html?pagewanted=2

      Two different locations report 16 and 12 foot rains.
      The Extreme Rain Events of 2010
      http://coloradobob1.newsvine.com/_news/2010/11/21/5504169-the-extreme-rain-events-of-2010

  11. Leif says:

    Fourteen billion dollar disasters and many of those are multi-billion dollars each. Still not even one quarter’s worth of profits for EXXON and they don’t even pay any tax to help off-set the damage. Talk about privatizing profits and socializing cost. On top of that we, the 99%, pay to subsidize the fossil pillage existence. It is clear that lobbyists are a good investment for the fossil industry, and it does not hurt to have a few politicians in your pocket as well. All the fossil industry has to do is to continue to throw sand in the gears.

  12. Paul Magnus says:

    That graph is looking like a hockey stick, come right angle.

    Those events are not coming down any time anymore.
    How is the US going to deal with $10b events every year or so from now on.

    How is the world going to cope with the recent level of events from now on.

    Coincidence that the events ramp up in 2005 around the time that conventional oil peaked!

  13. Jack says:

    They should sue the pants of disinformers for delaying action on climate change.

  14. Peter Mizla says:

    The freak storm here in CT shows just how poorly the current infrastructure is able to handle extreme weather events.

  15. Raul M. says:

    Surprisingly, 2011 was not to be so bad. Did I get it that 2012 is probably going to be much worse or that 2012 still isn’t going to be so bad cause of La Nina? Course, looking at the list of disasters, I don’t know that 2011 wasn’t so bad.

  16. Raul M. says:

    Just how successful could the average homeowner be with adding bracing to the average mass produced truss roofing for a home? My guess is that added cross bracing could help prevent things such as the drywall coming loose along the outside wall at the ceiling. Not such a big deal to add a few cross bracing to help tie the trusses together or the rafters and ceiling joists together. Once saw where winds had buckled the roof a ways in from the gable because that was where the wind hit so hard. The roof was looking good along the ridge line until it came to the buckle where the roof then leaned sharply to the buckle from the gable.
    I think that bracing in the attic could possibly made the roof stay right if it had been there.

  17. Michael E Sullivan says:

    I really wish that these figures would be adjusted not by inflation but by and NGDP deflator. A storm with the same kind of environmental impact as the snowstorm that hit new england last weekend and from which some people are *still* out of power here 9 days later — would have very little economic impact if in a location that was largely rural instead of primarily urban suburban and exurban. Here it had a *massive* economic impact. The dollar impact of the storm would have been much smaller in a poor country than a rich one.

    We have a bunch of economic growth over the years that means, even were the climate not changing at all, the number of storms doing over 1billion in damages would be expected to increase significantly over time.

    If you are trying to make an argument about increasing storm severity, you need to correct for that, but using some % of world GDP as a threshold, rather than a single number, even inflation adjusted.

  18. David B. Benson says:

    There is some mention of a maximum possible rainfall event in a paper I can’t locate just now. Anyway, it was so large that the authors could just ignore it for their analysis and so I did as well.

  19. Ana says:

    Why did you combine the Missouri and Souris Rivers flooding events? The Aon Benfield report lists them as 2 separate 1+ billion events, which would mean their report shows 15 1+ billion weather disasters in the US so far this year.
    Just curious…