Extreme weather and climate-related events took a costly toll in terms of both lives and money around the globe in 2012.
In January, record snowfall in Alaska contrasted sharply against the warmer-than-normal temperatures in the lower 48 states. And while much of the U.S. was experiencing a mild winter, by February, Europe was in the midst of a deep freeze that reached as far south as Venice, freezing the famous canals. Hundreds died as a result of the extreme cold across the continent.
The warmer-than-normal temperatures in the U.S. kicked off an early tornado season, with the first outbreak occurring in January, followed by a violent EF-4 tornado occurring in February and two other major outbreaks in March and April. In spite of its violent start, 2012’s tornado season was very short-lived, and 2012 may go down as the year with the fewest tornadoes on record in the U.S.
While tornado season in the U.S. was relatively brief, tornadoes struck more unusual places around the world. Tokyo, Japan, experienced a strong tornado that killed one person and injured dozens of others in May. In June, a rare tornado struck Venice, Italy. Italy was hit again in November, when a violent tornado struck the town of Taranto, killing four people. And on December 6, Auckland, New Zealand, was hit by a freak tornado that killed three people.
Hail and damaging winds plagued many parts of the U.S. during May and June. Hail damage in Colorado totaled more than $1.0 billion dollars in early June; and a “super derecho” of violent thunderstorms cut a 700-mile swath of destruction across the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic between June 29 and July 2, killing 28 people and leaving millions without power.
Climate change was the hot topic for 2012, with record heat and unprecedented drought recorded across much of the U.S. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 is the hottest year on record, and “the 2012 drought is the most extensive drought to affect the U.S. since the 1930s.” By July, more than half the country was experiencing moderate-to-severe drought. At least 123 people lost their lives as a direct result of the heat wave/drought.
The record heat/drought across the U.S. was also responsible for other weather-related disasters, including the second worst wildfire season in U.S. history. More than 9.1 million acres across the U.S. burned, with the most damaging fires occurring in the West. Colorado experienced its worst and most costly wildfire season ever. In total, wildfires killed eight people across the U.S. in 2012.
2012 will be remembered for many extreme weather events, but it may be best remembered for the record number of super storms—huge, continent-sized storms that battered coastlines around the globe.
In August, Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana. Although just a category 1 hurricane, because of its immense size and slow movement, Isaac’s large storm surge and flooding rains affected several southeastern states (LA, MS, AL, FL), killing nine people and causing more than $1.0 billion dollars in damage.
In Asia, super typhoons trained across Korea, China, and Japan one after another, causing record flooding and destruction. These super typhoons continued into December, as Super Typhoon Bopha wreaked havoc in the Philippines, killing more than 1,000 people.
Then there was super storm Sandy. Sandy proved that it doesn’t take a major storm to do major damage, becoming the second most costly storm in U.S. history. Sandy was a hybrid super storm created by the combination of a post-tropical cyclone merging with a developing Nor’-easter. The October storm unleashed an unprecedented fury of wind, storm surge, flooding rains, and snow on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Its barometric pressure was the lowest ever recorded in the history of the Northeast. Sandy’s storm surge inundated parts of The Battery in Manhattan, and caused widespread destruction in New York City and New Jersey. The storm was responsible for the closure of the New York Stock Exchange for “two consecutive business days, which last happened in 1888 due to a major winter storm,” according to NOAA, and was also responsible for 131 deaths.
By year’s end, there were 11 “billion-dollar weather/climate disasters” in the U.S. according to a recent report released by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “These eleven events combined are believed to have caused 349 deaths, with the most significant losses of life occurring during Sandy (131) and the summer-long heat wave and associated drought, which caused over 123 direct deaths (though an estimate of the excess mortality due to heat stress is still unknown).”
So what’s the forecast for 2013? While no one can predict with absolute certainty what’s ahead, everyone seems to have a prediction. Weather preoccupies our conversations almost daily, and from NOAA to The Weather Channel to “The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” one thing is certain, no one gets it right 100% of the time, and maybe that why we’re so fascinated with it.
“When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure.” – Alice Hoffman
Link to article in print: http://www.gcnlive.com/wp/2012/12/28/barb-adams-2012-a-year-of-extreme-weather/
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