Greensboro, NC -- 2011 has been a year of broken records and a plethora of extreme weather all around the world. From the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan, extreme drought in Africa to epic floods in Thailand, the United States also saw its fair share of natural disasters. Not to be overlooked due to the devastation of natural disasters, the year was also been riddled with other rare once in a lifetime natural and not-so-natural events.
The year began relatively calmly with January coming and going without much fanfare. As February arrived so did the epic Groundhog Day Blizzard which plowed through the Midwest. Stranded cars along Lake-Shore Drive in Chicago, Illinois told the story of the 2ft of snow and 60 mph winds that inundated the city.
Through April 4th & 5th The Midwest and Southeast experienced the first of the Nation's record twelve billion dollar disasters. Damaging winds and tornadoes were to blame for $2 billion in damages. Tornadoes touched down in Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi.
A week later from April 8th-11th the nation's second billion dollar disaster occurred as severe weather barreled through the Midwest and Southeast. An EF-3 tornado tore through and wiped out over 20% of a tiny town of only 1,200 residents.
Later that week over 200 tornadoes tore through 16 states including 30 confirmed tornadoes in North Carolina. The most devastating of these tornadoes in North Carolina was the EF-3 tornado with winds of 160 mph that ripped through Sanford and remained on the ground for 63 miles as it headed towards Raleigh. Six people lost their lives from this tornado alone with 38 fatalities resulting from the entire outbreak.
From April 25th-30th, what would become to be known as the Super Outbreak, produced 343 tornadoes in 21 states. This outbreak became the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded, producing an astounding four EF-5 tornadoes. April 27th, was particularly devastating as 188 tornadoes touched down in the Southeast, four of which were rated an EF-5. Major metropolitan areas such as Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Chattanooga were impacted by these strong tornadoes. The entire outbreak claimed the lives of at least 321 individuals. Over $7.3 billion were reported from insured losses, with total losses estimated to be greater than $10.2 billion.
May 22-27 saw an outbreak of tornadoes over the central and southern U.S. (MO, TX, OK, KS, AR, GA, TN, VA, KY, IN, IL, OH, WI, MN, PA). An estimated 180 tornadoes formed over the six day period which were responsible for at least 177 deaths. The most notable of the 180 tornadoes was the EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin, MO on May 22nd resulting in at least 160 deaths, making it the single most deadly tornado to strike the U.S. since modern tornado record keeping began in 1950. This outbreak produced a price tag of greater than $9.1 billion across 15 states.
Of much lesser consequence, the brood XIX 13-year cicada invaded parts of the Southeast, including the Triad. An estimated 1.5 million Cicadas per acre were in some locations through the months of May and June.
Tornadoes broke out again between June 18th-22nd over the central U.S. (OK, TX, KS, NE, MO, IA, IL) with an estimated 81 tornadoes. The same storm system continued to travel east and produced additional wind and hail damage across the Southeast including in North Carolina. Total losses from this event amounted to greater than $1.3 billion. This event was also responsible for at least 3 deaths.
Lasting from the spring through the fall, the Southern Plains/Southwest drought, heatwave and wildfires were responsible for over $10 billion is direct losses to crops, livestock and timber. Major impacts were felt from drought and heatwave conditions across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, and western Louisiana. In Texas and Oklahoma, a majority of range and pasture land was classified in 'very poor' condition for much of the 2011 crop growing season.
Through the spring and into the summer months, persistent rainfall combined with melting snowpack caused record flooding along the Mississippi River. The river began to swell in the beginning of May, flooding every state from Illinois down to Mississippi and Louisiana. As the river continued to rise and historic flooding continued to occur, the Morganza Spillway was opened on May 14th by the Army Corps of Engineers in effort to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The opening of the spillway flooded over 4,600 square miles of Louisiana. A federal disaster was declared by President Obama in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The National Climatic Data Center estimates $4 billion in damages resulted from this flood, although it is noted that the final amount might not be fully realized.
As the snow continued to melt and above-average precipitation fell across the Northern Rocky Mountains the Missouri and Souris Rivers began to breach their banks through the summer months across the Upper Midwest (MT, ND, SD, NE, IA, KS, MO). Many levees were breached along the Missouri River, flooding countless farms and producing losses that are estimated to exceed $2 billion.
In July, while much of the country was roasting in well above average temperatures, Oklahoma actually set the record for the hottest month for any state. Oklahoma's average temperature (including daily high and low temperatures) for the month of the July was 89.1 degrees. The previous record was also set by Oklahoma in July of 1954 with an average temperature of 88.1 degrees.
North Carolina was pulled into the fray again on August 27th when Hurricane Irene slammed into the Outer Banks. Irene moved ashore near Cape Lookout as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 mph. Irene continued to move northward along the East Coast producing copious amounts of rainfall and flooding into the Northeast. Over seven million homes and businesses lost power during the storm. Estimated damages and costs amounted to $7.3 billion and at least 45 fatalities resulted from Hurricane Irene.
While much of the country was tracking Hurricane Irene before it slammed into North Carolina, many people along the East Coast were rattled by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in northern Virginia on August 23rd. The earthquake occurred at 1:51 pm and was felt from Georgia to Maine and as far west as Detroit, Michigan.
Tropical Storm Lee was the storm that wouldn't quit. Lee moved ashore in Louisiana on September 4th and dropped copious amounts of rain across the eastern half of U.S. as it slowly moved to the northeast. Damage estimates from Lee exceed $1 billion from Louisiana to New York. One of the hardest hit cities was Binghamton, New York (population 47,000), where record rains from Lee's remnants brought a 1-in-500 year flood to the city's Susquehanna River. The flooded river rose 8.5 inches higher than the city's flood walls and spilled into the city causing tens of millions of dollars in damage.
After a steady decline through the summer months, the Arctic Ice extent finally stabilized. On September 15th the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that the area of ice in the Arctic was so small that it was the 2nd lowest on record.
Through the middle of September, chatter began to build about a dead satellite that would soon plummet back to Earth. On September 24th NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which was the size of a school bus and weighed six tons, fell back to earth after being in orbit for a successful six year mission. No injuries were reported as pieces of the satellite landed across the Pacific Ocean.
October typically brings a slow turn into autumn, but this year a rare early season storm brought snow to the North Carolina Mountains on October 1st. A total of 0.5" was reported at Beech Mountain and was enough to make it the earliest snowfall ever recorded in North Carolina history.
At the end of the month, from October 28th through the 30th another rare early season snowstorm brought over $3 billion in damage to Northeast. The storm wound up being the most extraordinary snowstorm in over two centuries with some snow totals exceeding the great October snow of 1804. More than 30" of snow in some locations piled up on trees that had not lost their leaves which resulted in widespread snapped branches and fallen trees leaving at least 2.5 million without power.
Next, a rare string of earthquakes rattled, of all places, Oklahoma. On November 5th, 6th and 8th Oklahoma experienced three separate earthquakes. The strongest of the three earthquakes was a magnitude 5.6 which occurred on November 6th.
On November 16th, a late season severe weather outbreak produced tornadoes through the southeast and into North Carolina. A strong EF-2 tornado with winds of 135 mph touched down in Davidson County and carved a 12.5 mile path to the northeast into Randolph County. The tornado claimed the lives of two people in Davidson County.
In all, the United States set a record with 12 separate billion dollar weather/climate disasters with a damage total of approximately $52 billion in 2011. The previous record for billion-dollar weather/climate disasters in one year was nine, set in 2008. The National Climatic Data Center reports that the twelve disasters alone resulted in a tragic loss of at least 646 lives. The National Weather Service reports that, for the year, over 1,000 deaths occurred across all weather categories.
WFMY News 2