By many measures, 2011 was the most extreme weather year for the U.S. since reliable record-keeping began in the 19th century -- and the costs have been enormous: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2011 set a record for the most billion dollar disasters in a single year. There were 12, breaking the old record of nine set in 2009. The aggregate damage from these 12 events totals at least $52 billion, NOAA found.
Severe weather across much of the nation has raised the question of whether global warming has already begun to influence shorter-term weather patterns, and the specter of even more extreme years to come as global temperatures continue to rise.
According to climate studies, the short answer is yes: the new climate environment created by global warming is making some extreme events, particularly heat waves and heavy rain, more likely to occur and more intense when they do. Climate models have more difficulty predicting how climate change may be influencing other types of extremes, such as severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, but a warming climate provides more fuel to these events in the form of increased water vapor and heat in the atmosphere.
By many measures 2011 was an extreme year for extreme events. Searing heat waves, parching drought, deadly tornadoes, blizzards and floods cost billions of dollars in damage, affected millions of lives and tragically, killed more than a thousand people across the U.S.
Climate Central examined extreme weather events from coast to coast to determine the 10 states that were clobbered the worst. Texas tops that list of hardest hit, with a costly -- and deadly -- combination of intense drought, a punishing heat wave, the worst wildfires in state history, and plenty of tornadoes.
Climate Central’s analysis factored the death toll in each state, damage costs, the disruption caused to daily life, and how unusual the events were compared with what transpires in an average year.
But for these 10 states, little of what transpired was average as extreme weather rewrote the record books in 2011.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained references to April flooding in Nashville, TN. This flooding occurred in 2010, not 2011. Also, the National Weather Service rated the Apison, TN tornado as an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, not an EF-5 as previously indicated.