As we look back at the memorable events of the past year, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include the weather. It was weather that seemed to dominate U.S. headlines in 2017. From coast to coast, January to December, we experienced everything from devastating hurricanes to floods to massive wildfires. The year pretty much ran the gamut of extremes, reminding us of the power of Mother Nature.
We compiled a list of the five worst weather events in the US during the past year:
#5. Deadly Tornado Outbreak in the South
The year got off to a dangerous start for those in the southeast. From January 21-23, three rounds of severe weather wreaked havoc across Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Eighty-one confirmed tornadoes touched down, resulting in 20 deaths. In fact, it was the largest outbreak on record in Georgia with 42 tornadoes confirmed in that state alone. More people were killed in this string of tornadoes than in all of 2016 (tornado deaths). The outbreak cost an estimated $1.3 billion in damage.
#4. Flooding in California
When it came to weather disasters, 2017 was not a good year for the residents of the Golden State. First, Northern California welcomed its wettest winter in nearly a century, which was good for the years-long drought, but the flooding that resulted destroyed much of wine country’s crops, causing millions of dollars in damage. Then a slow moving Presidents’ Day weekend storm dumped heavy precipitation, causing substantial damage from flooding and landslides. After such a long period of drought, many parts of the state were unable to handle the huge onslaught of water. Hundreds of thousands of residents, stretching from Sacramento to Los Angeles, had to be evacuated. The floods caused an estimated $1.5 billion in property and infrastructure damage and at least 5 people were killed as a direct result.
#3. Colorado Hail Storm
You might not think a hail storm would make headlines but this one certainly did. On May 8th a ferocious storm blew through the west metro Denver area and hammered it with golfball- and baseball-sized hail, punching holes through cars as they traveled during the busy rush hour and blowing out windows in homes.
The event ranks as the most expensive catastrophe in Colorado history, according to insurance estimates. More than 150,000 auto insurance claims and more than 50,000 homeowners insurance claims were filed. The final price tag: over $2 billion in losses.
#2. California Wildfires
California fell victim to another round of Mother Nature’s wrath, this time in the form of devastating wildfires. While wildfires are nothing new to the arid state, 2017 brought the most destructive fires this state has ever seen. Despite the flooding in the early part of the year (see #4), California’s landscape was still ripe for wildfire threats, a round of which flared up in October, and again in early December with the arrival of the warm, dry Santa Ana winds. The most devastating was the Thomas Fire (named for its nearby landmark, St. Thomas Aquinas College), in Ventura County, which burned approximately 440 square miles (281,893 acres), and became the 7th most destructive wildfire in California history. By December 22, the Thomas Fire had cost over $177 million to fight, and forced the evacuation of over 104,000 residents. The fire caused countless homes to burn to the ground, and caused the deaths of 1 firefighter and 1 civilian. The cause of this fire is still under investigation, and at the time of this writing, it is still not 100% contained. You can follow the daily updates of this fire here.
#1 Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria
Of course these monster storms ranked #1 on our worst weather events list. It what is known as one of the most active and costliest hurricane seasons on record, 2017 brought us Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and gave the U.S. a record three category 4+ hurricanes that made U.S. landfall within days of each other:
- Harvey hit Texas on August 25th with 130 mph winds and heavy rains. Harvey’s devastation was most pronounced due to the large region of extreme historic rainfall, which caused massive flooding that displaced over 30,000 people and destroyed over 200,000 homes and businesses. By the time the storm was over on August 31, Harvey claimed 91 lives and caused $198.6 billion in damage.
- Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean on September 10-11 after it devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands as a category 5 storm. It weakened a bit but still remained powerful as it moved across southern Florida, then turned north up the west coast of the state. Some of the hardest hit areas were Jacksonville and Charleston, South Carolina, which saw coastal flooding from near-historic levels of storm surge. Irma’s winds didn’t let up — the maximum sustained winds of 185 mph kept up for 37 hours, the longest in the satellite era. Other than Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Irma remained a category 5 storm for longer than all other Atlantic hurricanes on record. Irma caused 134 deaths and nearly $67 billion in damage.
- Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, after striking St. Croix, on September 20th as a catastrophic category 4 storm, the worst the island nation has seen in 90 years. The high winds caused widespread devastation to the islands major infrastructure, and the extreme rainfall caused widespread flooding and mudslides. At the time of this writing, half of the island’s 3.5 million residents are still without power. Maria is blamed for 547 deaths, and over $103 billion in damage.
Five Tornadoes Touch Down In Maine On A Single Day
While tornadoes are a common daily occurrence in many parts of the U.S., Maine averages only 1-2 twisters per year. But only July 1, a record five tornadoes ripped through the towns of Denmark, Bridgton, Otisfield, and on the state’s largest lake, Sebago, where a waterspout was spotted. Four of the tornadoes were categorized as F1 (wind speeds of 86-110 mph); the other was an F0 — winds were clocked at 72 mph. Large trees were downed and multiple reports of property damage. Read the report from the NWS here.
Did we leave anything off our list? Tell us in the comments below.