The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Thankfully, that isn't the case, but it sure seemed like it in 2011, which set a new record with 14 billion-dollar weather disasters across the United States, easily surpassing the previous record of nine in 2008. By the end of August 2011, severe weather had already caused $35 billion worth of damage, and that was before Hurricane Irene blew into town at the end of the month. From the west coast to the open plains of the Midwest to the eastern seaboard, it seemed like no region was able to escape the wrath of Mother Nature in 2011. Here are the 14 weather disasters responsible for almost $60 billion worth of damage in order of the damage they caused.
1. Drought, Heat Wave, and Wildfires in the Southern Plains/Southwest, Spring-Summer 2011
2. Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest Tornadoes, April 25-28, 2011
3. Hurricane Irene, August 2011
When Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 storm, made landfall in North Carolina before moving up the Mid-Atlantic coast, she brought torrential rains and flooding to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont. More than seven million homes and businesses were without power for days due to wind damage from falling trees and power lines, and Irene also spawned several tornado sightings. All in all, the storm was responsible for 45 deaths and $9.8 billion of damage to the Northeast.
4. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, May 22-27, 2011
A six-day tornado outbreak across the central and southern part of the United States, including Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, resulted in an estimated 180 tornadoes. The storms were responsible for 177 deaths, including at least 160 in Joplin, Missouri after an EF-5 tornado virtually leveled the town, making it the deadliest single tornado on record. When all was said and done, the damage from the tornado outbreak totaled $9.1 billion.
2011 Weather Disasters
5. Mississippi River Flooding, Spring-Summer 2011
"When it rains it pours" was a familiar saying in the Ohio Valley in 2011, which brought one of the wettest years on record for the region. Heavy rainfall and melting snow caused historic flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, killing seven people and causing about $3 billion worth of damage.
6. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, April 4-5, 2011
The first week in April was a brutal one for the central and Southern states when a series of 46 tornadoes swept through Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina, killing nine people and causing $2.8 billion of damage.
7. Southeast/Midwest Tornadoes, April 8-11, 2011
They don't call it Tornado Alley for nothing. In mid-April, an outbreak of 59 tornadoes swept across nine states, including the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Thankfully no one was killed, but the storms caused approximately $2.2 billion in damage.
8. Upper Midwest/Missouri River Flooding, Summer 2011
When the Missouri and Souris rivers flooded across the Upper Midwest thanks to above-average precipitation and some serious snow melting in the Northern Rocky Mountains, about 11,000 people were forced to evacuate Minot, North Dakota. 4,000 homes along the Souris River flooded, and levees along the Missouri River were breached, flooding thousands of acres of farmland. Five people were killed in the flooding and total damages came in at $2 billion.
9. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes, April 14-16, 2011
An outbreak of 177 tornadoes struck 10 central and Southern states, including Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The storms claimed 38 lives, 22 of which were lost in North Carolina. Total damages reached more than $2 billion.
10. Groundhog Day Blizzard, January 29-February 3, 2011
A large winter storm struck many states in the central, eastern, and northeastern United States, dumping 1-2 feet of snow on Chicago and bringing the city to a virtual standstill. The late-winter blizzard left 36 people dead and caused $1.8 billion worth of damage to the frozen region.
11. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes and Severe Weather, June 18-22, 2011
Another deadly tornado outbreak, this time with an estimated 81 tornadoes, swept across the central states of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. Additional strong winds and hail wreaked havoc across the Southeast, including Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas, killing a total of three people and causing $1.3 billion in damage.
12. Tropical Storm Lee, September 2011
Although Lee never reached hurricane status, the storm still managed to cause plenty of wind and flood damage across the southeastern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee and even more damage in the northeastern states of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Maryland thanks to record flooding. Damages from Lee added up to $1.3 billion, and 21 people were killed.
13. Texas/New Mexico/Arizona Wildfires, Summer 2011
Continued drought and extreme heat provided conditions favorable for a series of historic wildfires across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The Bastrop Fire in Texas was the most destructive fire in Texas history, destroying over 1,500 homes. The Wallow Fire consumed over 500,000 acres in Arizona making it the largest on record in that state. The Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico was also the state's largest wildfire on record scorching over 150,000 acres while threatening the Los Alamos National Laboratory. More than three-million acres burned across Texas this wildfire season, killing five people and causing $1 billion worth of damage.
14. Rockies & Midwest Severe Weather, July 10-14, 2011
An outbreak of tornadoes, hail, and high winds caused serious damage east of the Rocky Mountains and across the central plains states of Colorado, Wyoming, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio, killing two people and causing $1 billion in damages.
Weather Disaster Resources:
- U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disaster - USA Today
- 2011 Weather Disasters - Washington Post
- National Climatic Data Center