WASHINGTON — The annual number of billion-dollar natural disasters has been increasing since 1980 and as of December 1, there have been 18 billion-dollar disasters in 2021 alone. The December tornado outbreak just a few weeks ago will likely be the 19th billion dollar disaster of the year.
The year got off to a very cold start for parts of the country. A historic February cold snap left millions of Texans without electricity or heat for days after a power grid failure linked to the record cold. Temperatures bottomed out the morning of February 16 at 20 degrees in Galveston,13 degrees in Houston, and 5 degrees in College Station Texas. More than 170 people died.
From extreme cold to severe heat. Late June featured the biggest heat story of the year when Portland, Oregon hit 116 degrees and Seattle, Washington reached 108 degrees. Hundreds of deaths were blamed on the heat throughout the Pacific Northwest and up to British Columbia.
Severe drought conditions are nothing new in the western United States. The past several summers have featured near-record dry conditions. But this summer was one for the books. 95% of the western US experienced a moderate to severe drought. The expanse and extent of the drought impacting the western United States this summer exceeded any drought conditions since 2000 and is likely the worst drought for the region in centuries.
And with the dry conditions came the largest single wildfire in California’s history: The Dixie Fire. Severe drought and poor forest management allowed the fire to explode. More than 963,000 acres burned in the devastating wildfire that began on July 13th and wasn’t 100% contained until October 25.
CalFire reported more than 2.5 million acres burned across California this year.
From too little rain to too much rain. Category 4 Ida produced unprecedented rainfall and record wind. The historic storm brought wind speeds of 150 miles per hour when it made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm tied for the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana based on wind speed. The storm caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and killed dozens of people across the central Gulf Coast.
The storm continued to wreak havoc as it traveled northeast through the Mid-Atlantic, producing the Annapolis tornado that touched down on September 1. The tornado tracked 11.25 miles from near Shady Side to just north of Annapolis. The tornado was on the ground for 23 minutes and was rated an EF-2 with 125 mile per hour winds. While not unheard of, a tornado that strong in the Mid Atlantic is hardly normal.
RELATED: NWS: Annapolis hit with EF-2 tornado
The damage from Ida didn’t stop there, the tropical moisture led to record-setting rainfall rates in the northeast. Newark registered 3.24 inches of rain in just one hour. Central Park picked up 3.15 inches in one hour. The floodwaters left many New York residents trapped in flooded basement apartments. At least 49 people were killed throughout New York and New Jersey.
Severe storms left their mark as well. On April 28th a powerful supercell thunderstorm produced a massive, record-setting 6.42-inch hailstone near Hondo, Texas. It weighed about 1.26 lbs. For some perspective, a few things that are around 6 inches in diameter include a cake pan, wall clock, and a frisbee.
To round out our top nine weather disasters of the year, the most recent event. Beginning the night of December 10, an unprecedented tornado outbreak began. So far, the National Weather Service has confirmed 66 tornadoes. An outbreak of this magnitude would be incredible any time of year, but the fact that it was in December rather than the summer or spring when tornadoes are more likely is remarkable. The most devastating tornado that night tore through western Kentucky. The long-track tornado was on the ground for 128 miles with peak winds of 190 miles per hour. The tornado was rated an EF-4, but it’s not out of the question that it could be upgraded to a 5 as the damage continues to be surveyed.
The only year with more billion-dollar disasters than this year…was last year when 22 billion-dollar disasters were recorded.
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