2011 Weather Matches Record for Billion-Dollar Disasters

So far in 2011 the United States has endured nine separate disasters with damaging effects that have totaled over $1 billion each, tying a 2008 record.

As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service is working on a new initiative to create a “Weather-ready” nation, better preparing communities for potentially devastating weather conditions.

“Severe weather represents a very real threat to public safety that requires additional robust action,” said Jack Hayes, the NOAA’s National Weather Service director. “The increasing impacts of natural disasters, as seen this year, are a stark reminder of the lives and livelihoods at risk.”

The nine financially-draining disasters included floods (in the upper Midwest and along the Mississippi River), a drought and heatwave in the Southwest and southern plains states (which also led to wildfires), a number of tornado outbreaks (which occurred in the Southeast, Midwest, and Ohio valley in the months of April and May), and a blizzard that punished several central, eastern, and northeastern states at the end of January and beginning of February.

The single EF-5 that struck Joplin, Mo., was particularly damaging, not just in dollars but in the record-breaking 141 lives that were lost when it tore through the city.

The National Weather Service, in conjunction with a number of government and private sector partners, hopes to take a number of steps to help the nation become more prepared for such disasters. They hope to do so by improving weather forecasting, utilizing innovative technology, developing better support services, and creating stronger relationships with local authorities, emergency management officials and other partners.

Munich Reinsurance America, a property and casualty insurance provider, reports that the number of natural disasters has tripled in the last 20 years. In the first half of 2011 there was a loss of $20 billion due to thunderstorms and, according to the group, the previous three-year average for such losses totaled only $10 billion.

“Building a Weather-ready nation is everyone's responsibility,” said Eddie Hicks, president of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM – USA). “The more prepared communities are for destructive weather, the less of a human and economic toll we'll experience in the future, and that's a great thing for the country.”

NOAA records show that there have been 108 disasters in the last 30 years that have caused over a billion dollars in damage. The total cost of these disasters since 1980 amounts to three-quarters of $1 trillion in standardized losses.

So far, this year’s losses from such disasters total approximately $35 billion and, even worse, nearly 600 deaths.