News / USA

US Sets Extreme Weather Records in 2011

Events consistent with long-term global warming trends

Margie Sisemore cleans after a tornado destroyed several homes in the small town of Cincinnati, Arkansas. That tornado was among 1,600 that crisscrossed the US in 2011.
Margie Sisemore cleans after a tornado destroyed several homes in the small town of Cincinnati, Arkansas. That tornado was among 1,600 that crisscrossed the US in 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Extreme weather cut a path of destruction across the United States in 2011.

For Bill Wing, it began 12 months ago, on New Year’s Day, as he surveyed the damage from a tornado that touched down in Cincinnati, Arkansas.

“It sounded like a freight train coming," he says. "We weren't in the direct path of it. You could feel the wind moving and the shaking, more like an earthquake for us.”  

That tornado was among 1,600 that crisscrossed the nation in 2011. Twelve weather-related disasters accounted for $1 billion or more each in economic losses, a new record, according to Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for the National Weather Service.



“We’ve seen historic events of nearly every weather category," says Vaccaro. "So in terms of snow storms, and hurricanes and floods and droughts, all of these events this year ranked in the top three or even the highest ever recorded.”

The extreme weather affected millions of people, claimed 1,000 lives, resulted in 8,000 injuries and totaled more than $52 billion in economic losses. The most costly, according to David Brown, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was the year-long drought that continues to grip southern plains states.

In 2011, Texas farmers contended with a year-long drought which continues to grip southern plains states.
In 2011, Texas farmers contended with a year-long drought which continues to grip southern plains states.

“We’re looking at $6 to $8 billion in damage from agricultural losses, from fire losses, in places like Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma and if the drought persists for the next several months, as we expect it will, those damages will only increase.”

Vaccaro says a growing population and expanding infrastructure account in part for the damages, but also large-scale cyclical weather patterns came into play in 2011. “First and foremost was La Nina in the eastern Pacific which altered our standard storm patterns. And we also had a pattern in the Arctic called the Arctic Oscillation.

That was a big factor in the winter and spring months, allowing cold air to flow into the United States that helped spawn snow storms and also support the tornado season.”

While there is no evidence to connect global warming with specific local weather events, Vaccaro says this past year’s weather extremes are consistent with what climate experts are projecting for the long-term. Warming temperatures provide more energy and water in the atmosphere and consequently trigger more intense droughts, heavier rainfall and stronger storms.

Peter Altman, climate and clean air campaign director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, expects the situation to get worse as global temperatures continue to rise. He advocates action to reduce climate changing emissions and mitigate their impact.

“We’ve got to better prepare ourselves to manage these kind of weather events, whether they are droughts, wildfires, heat waves, floods, and that means in terms of emergency management in providing the kind of health assistance that you need in the aftermath of those kinds of events.”

The 2011 weather extremes could be the “new normal,” says Vaccaro with the National Weather Service. The agency is taking steps to build a weather-ready nation, which calls on a growing network of partners in the public and private sector to work together to prepare for future disasters.

You May Like

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid