As 2011 draws to a close, here’s a look at the most extreme and unforgettable weather the U.S. has seen over the last 12 months:
1. Super Tornado Outbreak – April brought the worst tornado outbreak the country had seen since the infamous super outbreak of 1974. Over the course of three days, 353 tornadoes touched down in 21 states, ranging from from Texas to New York, including four F5 tornadoes (the most powerful classification). In total, 346 people were killed as a result of the outbreak, including 249 in Alabama alone, and there was an estimated $11 billion in damages.
2. The Joplin Tornado — Though May’s tornado outbreak was not quite as destructive as the one in April, one tornado in particular was the deadliest single tornado in the US since April 9, 1947. On Sunday, May 22, an F5 tornado touched don in the town of Joplin, Missouri. In less than one hour, the tornado reduced a full third of the town to rubble, killing 161 people. The storm also caused more than $2 billion in damage, making it the most expensive disaster in the state’s history.
3. Hurricane Irene – In late August, a tropical storm named Irene formed just southeast of the island of Hispaniola. The storm wound its way up the east coast of the United States, eventually becoming a category 3 hurricane. It first made landfall in the Carolinas before tearing its way north, leaving behind devastation throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Many inland regions that are seldom affected by hurricanes saw extensive damage. Throughout its path, Irene caused at least 56 deaths and as much as $7 billion in damage.
4. The Mississippi Floods — A series of storms throughout the month of April combined with large amounts of snow melt to create one of the most damaging floods of the past century, comparable to the storied floods of 1927 and 1993. Six states – Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana — saw the worst of the flooding. The flood caused more than $5 billion worth of damage, and tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. In several locations, spillways were opened in an attempt to draw off some of the water. In rural Louisiana, the Morganza Spillway was opened, flooding 4,600 square miles in an attempt to save the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. President Obama declared many of the affected counties federal disaster areas.
5. Southern Drought — Starting in January, a severe drought took hold in the southern U.S., affecting Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Texas alone suffered record crop and livestock loss, with an estimated $5.2 billion losses. The 12-month period from August 2010 through July 2011 was the state’s driest year on record. In addition, the drought resulted in numerous wildfires throughout the region, which burned tens of thousands of acres of land and displaced thousands of people from their homes.
Honorable Mention: The Groundhog Day Blizzard — In the early days of February, a severe storm moved through much of the eastern half of the U.S., dumping as much as two feet of snow in some areas, and bringing winds in excess of 60 mph. A state of emergency was declared in several states, including Illinois, where the Chicago experienced one of the worst storms in its infamously stormy history. Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive had to be closed, stranding an estimated 900 vehicles, some for as long as 12 hours. The storm also resulted in 13,000 flight cancellations, and at least 24 deaths.