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Hartford Courant

Toll from Weather Disasters in US This Year Hits $52 Billion

Mara Lee

In this Feb. 2, 2011 file photo, hundreds of cars are seen stranded on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago after a winter blizzard of historic proportions wobbled an otherwise snow-tough Chicago. America's wild weather year has hit yet another new high. (AP)

HARTFORD, Conn. - The United States had a dozen weather disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damage this year, the greatest frequency of severe weather that caused costly losses in more than 30 years of federal government tracking.

However, even with the number of events, the total losses this year from these storms, flooding and droughts is $52 billion, not even close to the most expensive year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina alone cost $145 billion in today's dollars. It was the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, and, with more than 1,800 deaths, the highest toll in lives since the 1928 hurricane in south Florida.

The Joplin, Mo., tornado was the deadliest single tornado in 61 years, with 160 deaths, and the tornado there, along with 179 others across 15 states in late May cost $9.1 billion, with $6.5 billion in insured losses.

The disasters this year caused more than 600 deaths, NOAA said. In addition to the Groundhog Day Blizzard, Hurricane Irene and many tornadoes, drought-fueled wildfires in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona crossed the $1 billion threshold.

The increase in losses from hurricanes has more to do with how we're getting richer, more numerous, and building more properties near the beach than it does climate change, the scientists from NOAA say.

But, they add, "there is evidence that climate change may affect the frequency of certain extreme weather events. An increase in population and development in flood plains, along with an increase in heavy rain events in the U.S. during the past 50 years have gradually increased the economic losses due to flooding. If the climate continues to warm, the increase in heavy rain events is likely to continue. There are projections that the incidence of extreme droughts will increase if the climate warms throughout the 21st century."

About 343 tornadoes in 13 states in late April were the most costly disaster, with total losses greater than $10.2 billion and insured losses of $7.3 billion. Tuscaloosa, Ala., was badly hit, and 240 of the 321 deaths were in Alabama.

Close behind was a drought and heat wave across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, southern Kansas and western Louisiana. The total direct losses to crops, livestock and timber approach $10 billion; both direct and total economic losses will rise as the drought continues.

The weather fueled wildfires across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, with losses over $1 billion from just the fires.

Hurricane Irene cost more than $7.3 billion in damages and 45 deaths.

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