The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today that the official list of billion dollar weather and climate disasters in 2011 is now up to 12, smashing the old record of nine, set in 2008. The total damage from these 12 events alone, says NOAA, stands at $52 billion and still rising — a hefty price tag in any case, but especially tough in a sluggish economy.
The NOAA list got bigger after the agency separated out the Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona wildfires from the larger Southern Plains drought and heat event (it's not cheating: the agency says this is consistent with how it has treated wildfires in the past). In addition, damage from the burst of tornadoes and other severe weather that hit the Midwest and Southeast from June 18-22 has just risen above the $1 billion threshold. The costs of the October snowstorm in the Northeast and Tropical Storm Lee, says NOAA, have not exceeded $1 billion — yet.
That's NOAA's version. As I reported last month, however, a different analysis, from the insurance company Aon Benfield, pegged the number of $1 billion disasters at 14. But whether the total is 12 or 14, one thing is clear: this was a record year for extreme weather in the US. In fact, as the AP's Seth Borenstein noted, "2011 has seen more weather catastrophes that caused at least $1 billion in damage than it did in all of the 1980s, even after the dollar figures from back then are adjusted for inflation."
Sea level rise and increased flood risk are just a few of the impacts of global climate change expected in New Jersey. Credit: jerseygal2009/flickr.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about a new report describing the projected impacts of global climate change on New York State. A quick refresher: more heat waves and more intense rainfall are expected to affect everything from agriculture to water and energy resources, and potentially even major parts of the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Of course, New York isn’t the only state that will experience the impacts of the changing climate. They aren’t the only one now examining their vulnerabilities, either. Officials in neighboring New Jersey are beginning to assess the state’s climate-related risks as well.
At a workshop held at Rutgers University earlier this week, local climate change experts and policy makers discussed not only how the climate may change over the next several decades, but also what the economic, environmental and health consequences could be.
Climate scientists predict that New Jersey, like other Northeast states, will see more hot days (think: summers in which long stretches of 100-degree-plus heat will be the norm) that may harm crops and raise electricity demand. On top of that, heavier rains and higher coastal water levels caused by sea level rise are going to make damaging floods much more likely throughout the state. In a year in which flooding has already cost the Garden State dearly, news of more frequent serious floods isn’t encouraging.
Experts at the workshop pointed out that the effects of global warming have alre...
The wind storm is finally subsiding in the West, but it has left a widespread trail of destruction and frazzled nerves in its wake. Fueled by an epic difference in air pressure between the Pacific Northwest — where Seattle set an all-time record for its highest air pressure reading — and the Southwest, where a strong area of low pressure set up, high winds funneled over, through, and down the backside of mountains and mountain passes.
According to The Weather Channel, winds topped 100 mph in Utah, California, and Colorado, and came close to the century mark in Nevada and New Mexico. In the Los Angeles metro area, wind gusts of 40 to 70 mph were common.
NOAA computer model visualization of wind speeds and direction during the high wind event. The lightest blue to white colors represent the strongest winds — up to 80 mph. The flow vectors show the direction the winds are blowing.
At the summit of Mammoth Mountain in California, sustained winds of 140 mph — equivalent to a Category Four hurricane — were reported, along with gusts to at least 150 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Update: Examiner.com reports that an even stronger wind gust of 167 mph was recorded at Henniger Flats, Calif. If verified, that would be truly astounding.
In Pasadena, California, 200 buildings were damaged by the storm, and trees were toppled along with power lines (and even gas stations) throughout the West. At the peak of the event, high wind warnings and advisories were in effect from California to Wyoming, and hundreds of thousands of people were without power.
These high winds were unusual even for Southern California, which is used to strong offshore wind events known as "Santa A...
Global temperatures in 2011 will likely rank as the 10th-warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). If this ranking holds up once data from November and December come in, it would mean that 13 of the warmest years since record-keeing began have all occurred during just the past 15 years.
Still, the 2011 figures would mark a dip from last year, which was tied as the warmest year on record. Some people might think this means that planet is no longer warming, but that wouldn't be a valid conclusion in any case. Global warming doesn't mean the globe will literally be warmer each year than it was the year before. It's an overall upward trend over a period of decades: no individual year means much by itself.
What's remarkable, in fact, is that temperatures in 2011 did not cool off more than they did. The the fact that they didn't may be just another indication that manmade global warming is really happening.
For much of this year, an unusually intense La Niña event — the strongest in at least 60 years — took place in the tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niña, which is part of a natural climate cycle, is characterized by a large area of cooler than average sea surface temperatures near the equator. Through a series of interactions between the ocean and air above it, these cooler waters can help reconfigure global weather patterns. In 2011 alone, La Niña has been implicated in everything from the (still ongoing) Texas drought to historic f...
To understand how odd the weather has been so far this week, consider this: yesterday, New York City basked in record-setting 70°F warmth, which set a new daily high temperature record for the date. At the same time, snow was moving into southern locales like Memphis and Nashville, TN.
Both the unusual warmth in the Northeast as well as the snow in the South were tied to the same weather system — a strong area of low pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere that was cut off from broader steering currents, known to meteorologists as a "cut off low." This system, along with an area of low pressure at the surface, helped pump warm air up the eastern seaboard, while manufacturing just enough cold air in the South to produce the highly unusual snow.
The jackpot so far was the town of Denmark, Tennessee, where five inches fell. Missouri was particularly hard hit by the snow as well, with 3.5 inches falling in the town of Malden. The National Weather Service produced an interactive map of snowfall totals.
November snow is exceptionally rare in the Memphis area. According to The Weather Channel, Memphis has had just three days with an inch or more of snow in November since records began there in 1875. The Weather Channel also posted Weather Service snowfall reports from Memphis, Paducah, and Jonesboro.
On the warm side of the weather system, Newark, NJ and New York City both tied or set new records for the daily high temperature as well...