2011 has been a year of “unparalleled weather extremes” in the United States, as at least 2,941 monthly weather records have been broken, a new interactive mapping tool developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals.

The NRDC found at least 1,302 heat-related records, 1,090 rainfall records, and 549 snowfall records have been broken. Especially hard hit have been the Midwest and Northeast, which endured heavy flooding, and the greater Texas region, which endured an extended period of wildfires, extreme heat, and drought.

Extreme weather has caused an estimated $53 billion in damages in 2011. Hurricane Irene and Midwest and Mississippi River flooding have resulted in more than $20 billion in damages and nearly 60 deaths. Southwestern droughts, heat waves, and wildfires have taken a toll on ranchers and food producers, who have experienced more than $10 billion in total direct losses related to agriculture, cattle, and structures.

“This ... data is indicative of what we can expect as climate change continues,” Kim Knowlton, NRDC senior scientist, who spearheaded the development of the Web-based tool, said.

The NRDC says “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation,” a special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change due in February 2012 concludes the effects of climate change will intensify extreme heat, heavy precipitation, and maximum wind speeds of tropical storms, while a study published in the November 2011 issue of Health Affairs shows that just six climate-change-related events in the United States between 2000 and 2009 accounted for about $14 billion in lost lives and health costs.

“Actions can be taken today to limit the worst effects of climate change,” Knowlton said. “Our leaders need to make climate-change preparedness a priority, if these events will be occurring more frequently and with more intensity.”

 

Additional Resources

For more information about 2011’s record-breaking extreme-weather events, see:

• The NRDC’s climate-health vulnerability maps.

NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner’s blog on the financial hardships of extreme-weather events.

NRDC Senior Scientist Gina Solomon’s blog on the human impacts of extreme-weather events.

NRDC Senior Scientist Kim Knowlton’s blog on the public-health impacts of extreme-weather events.