12 Natural Disasters in 2011 Cost US Billions in Damages

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. weather-related disasters cost a record $1 billion each in 2011.

“We know the frequency of billion-dollar weather disasters is increasing since 1980. Clearly a big factor this year was tornado outbreaks and severe local weather,” Director of the National Climatic Data Center Tom Karl told a

NOAA reported Thursday that a total of 12 natural disasters have killed 646 people and caused an estimated $52 billion in 2011, far exceeding the record high of nine disasters in 2008.

Based on records dating back to 1910, there has been an increase in weather-related disasters since 1970.

Six of the worst disasters in 2011 were tornadoes in 23 states killing 548 people and resulting in $19.7 billion in insured losses.

Tornadoes as well as flooding on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers contributed to the record high damages.

Hurricane Irene in August cost more than $7.3 billion in damage in nine states. Wildfires in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico have also been quite costly, destroying nearly 3.7 million acres. A Chicago blizzard resulted in $1 billion in losses, while major flooding on the Missouri, Souris, Mississippi and Ohio rivers caused at least $4 billion in damage.

Karl said that social and climate factors are partially responsible for the increase.

Not only has the population grown since 1980, but more people purchase and insure expensive items causing an increase in monetary damage numbers, Karl said.

As far as the climate, Karl added that global temperatures have increased, increasing water vapor in the air along with it. This leads to higher rainfalls that cause more flooding.

The damage statistics are compiled for several sources including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Munich Reinsurance, as well as state and local governments.

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