The 10 Worst Weather Disasters This Year and Why They Are Happening
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Floodwaters remain threatening in parts of the Northeast. A cresting Susquehanna River caused evacuations late last week in Pennsylvania -- the culprit that time was tropical storm Lee, which came on the heels of Hurricane Irene. These days extreme weather is beginning to seem like the new normal in a year marked by disastrous events -- deadly tornadoes, raging floods, crippling drought and wildfire, massive hurricanes, and don't forget the great white-out of "snowpocalpyse."
All these events have taken their toll on the country, both in terms of human lives lost and the amount of damages incurred. FEMA's disaster fund has dipped so low it is having to divert funds from Joplin, Missouri, site of the heartbreaking May tornado, to areas clobbered by Irene. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reports that we've already set a record of 10 disasters over $1 billion each this year-- and it's only September.
So how bad have things been, and what's to blame? Let's take a look at the NCDC's list of wreckage of the last nine months.
1. Ground Hog Day Blizzard, Jan 29-Feb 3
It may be hard to think back to the frigid days of winter, but the massive storm that blanketed central and eastern states was a killer. It put Chicago under several feet of snow, claimed 36 lives and caused losses over $2 billion. The storm stymied travel, exhausted plowing budgets, and brought major cities to a standstill. For New York, the storm capped a month of snowfall that hit 36 inches.
2. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, April 4-5
Next came the beginning of a horrifying tornado season, which included five events topping $1 billion. The first, on April 4-5 hit 10 southern and central states with 46 tornadoes, losses over $2.3 billion and nine people killed.
3. Southeast/Midwest Tornadoes, April 8-11
Then came another 59 tornadoes that battered the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin. Total losses topped $2.2 billion but no casualties were reported.
4. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, April 14-16
This round of 160 tornadoes rocked Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. North Carolina received the brunt with tornadoes killing 22 people out of the storms' total of 38 casualties. More than $2 billion in losses were reported.
5. Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest Tornadoes, April 25-30
And still the tornadoes kept coming -- this time 305 tornadoes and 327 people dead, 240 of them killed in Alabama. The twisters hit more populated areas like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Huntsville and Chattanooga, bringing the tab to over $9 billion.
6. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, May 22-27
Then came 180 tornadoes that terrorized central and southern states, claiming 177 lives and costing over $7 billion. The town of Joplin, Missouri lost 141 people and received the unfortunate honor of being the site of the country's deadliest tornado strike. Before and after photos of Joplin showed obliterated neighborhoods, roads, schools, churches and hospitals, and the media was filled with heartbreaking stories of people searching for loved ones.
7. Southern Plains/Southwest Drought, Heatwave and Wildfires, Spring-Summer
Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas, western Arkansas and Louisiana have been massively hot and dry. This has resulted in mammoth wildfires, lost crops and livestock, charred homes, and dwindling water supplies. Texans have now experienced the hottest three months (June through August) ever recorded in the U.S. Climate-denying Texas governor Rick Perry has been praying for rain, but his prayers have done nothing to help the 3.6 million acres torched in his state. (It also hasn't helped that he cut the volunteer fire department budgets from $30 million to $7 million -- a really bad decision considering that most Texans' first line of defense is from the volunteer corps.) Across the Southwest and southern plains states, firefighting costs have reached $1 million a day. The total economic damages are still being tallied as this summer of hell is far from over, but losses to agriculture, cattle and buildings are more than $5 billion.