A Year of Costly Natural DisastersBy Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: December 28th, 2011
Big natural disasters added up to big money in 2011, and many of the nation’s electric cooperatives could be including projects to repair the damage permanently in their construction plans for 2012.
“The year 2011 is already in the record books as a year of historic extreme events,” Undersecretary of Commerce Jane Lubchenco said recently. “There have now been 12 extreme weather events [each] totaling at least $1 billion in damages.”
The events making the list:
• Wildfires: From spring through autumn, historic wildfires scorched millions of acres across portions of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, causing at least $1 billion in damage.
• Hurricane Irene: After making landfall as a Category 1 storm Aug. 26, Irene’s winds ripped up trees in coastal areas of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Torrential rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic region and New England boosted damage totals to more than $7.3 billion in nine states.
• Big Rivers-Big Flooding: Heavy snowmelt in the Mountain West, coupled with a wet spring and summer across the Ohio Valley, contributed to record floods along the nation’s major rivers. The Mississippi and its tributaries caused up to $4 billion in flood damage. Flood losses along the Missouri River totaled $2 billion from Montana south to Missouri.
• Hot and Dry: Drought conditions across parts of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas and Louisiana were blamed for $10 billion in crop and agricultural losses.
• Ravaging Winds: A series of six major wind events from April through June affected at least 21 states. Hurricane force winds, hundreds of tornadoes and wind shear incidents caused nearly $29 billion in damages.
• Groundhog Overshadowed: Dubbed the Groundhog Day Blizzard, the Jan. 29-Feb. 3 storm buried portions of the Midwest and Great Lakes region under up to two feet of heavy snow. Losses from the Great Plains to the Mid-Atlantic region topped $1.8 billion.
“The aggregate damage from these 12 events is approximately $52 billion,” said Lubchenco. “More than 1,000 people died from these disasters.”
Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency have described 2011 as “one of the most active years for disasters in recent history.”
Besides the first hurricane landfall on the U.S. mainland since 2008, there was also the deadliest series of tornadoes since the 1950s, significant earthquakes and severe flooding, said Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator.
“One of the most important lessons we can take away from this year,” Fugate said, “is that disasters can impact all of us, no matter what part of the country we live in.”