Top Ten Weather Events of 2011

Indiana State Fair Collapse – Seven people were killed and more than 40 injured when a strong gust of wind toppled a lighting grid on the main stage at the Indiana State Fair on August 13th. Many people were waiting for Sugarland to perform when a 70 mph wind gust rolled through the fair toppling the stage, crushing many people. The band had performed here in Rockford just a day earlier.

A warning was given to people in the area about 10 minutes before the collapse, however many didn’t heed the warning. Numerous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the victims.

Video: WTHR-TV report

Southern Plains Heat, Drought, and Fire – 2011 marked the hottest summers on record for Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana. Wichita Falls, Texas was one of the many cities tallying more than 100 days of 100 degree heat.

According to the Texas Forest Service, nearly a half a billion trees have been killed just this year alone. In a Reuters report, Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway said the tree loss is in both urban and rural areas and represents as much as 10 percent of all trees in the state! One of the hardest hit areas is in East Texas, known as the Piney Woods, one of the country’s leading areas for wood and paper production. It’s not yet clear what long-term damage there will be do those industries.

The drought caused a massive wildfire on September 4th near Bastrop Texas. By the time the fire was put out on October 10th, 1,600 homes were lost. Two people were killed. The total losses to crops, livestock, timber, and homes (burned by fire) may exceed $10.0 Billion and rise as drought continues.

Video: KXAN-TV report

Halloween Nor’easter – A strong, cold storm system brewed just off of the Eastern Seaboard in October causing a very rare early season Nor’easter for many big cities, including New York. This was only the 4th time New York City saw measurable snow in October. Snowfall ranged from a few inches to over a foot in higher elevations of New England. Because it occurred just two months after Hurricane Irene, may trees were already stressed. Because most trees had not shed their leaves, breaking limbs took out power lines. The record blackouts that occurred during the hurricane were surpassed as 3.3 million people saw power disrupted, some for as many as ten days.

36 people died as a result of the storm. Damage estimates are near $4 billion dollars.

North Carolina Tornado Outbreak – To put our number seven weather event in perspective, consider this fact: The United States averages 160 tornadoes every April. In just three days, between April 14th and April 16th, a mind-boggling 178 tornadoes touched down! Most occurred in North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia. Damage totals surpassed the two billion mark. 38 people died as a result of the tornadoes, 22 of which in North Carolina alone.

What’s interesting is this outbreak produced very few tornadoes classified as “intense.” There were 14 EF-3 tornadoes and no EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes.in North Carolina].

Video: WRAL-TV coverage as a tornado moved into downtown Raleigh.

The Good Friday Tornado – Just six days after the tornadoes struck North Carolina, a major U.S. city saw the strongest tornado in four decades. During the evening hours of Good Friday, April 22nd an EF-4 tornado ripped a 21 mile path of destruction through St. Louis County, Missouri, St. Louis City, Missouri, and Madison County, Illinois.

Even though an extremely strong tornado devastated a highly-populated metropolitan area, there were no fatalities. This is attributable to the fact the National Weather Service office averaged 34 minutes lead-time before the tornadoes. In addition, wall-to-wall television coverage, social media reports, and quick reaction by the public makes this event a success story when it comes to large urban tornadoes.

The tornado will be remembered because it struck St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport, blowing out windows and peeling a large section of roof from Concourse C. Five people were injured at the airport but many pilots and passengers on waiting aircraft weren’t notified of the tornado warning. This has opened up dialogue so airport passengers and pilots are notified of weather hazards while on the ground.

January 24, 1967 was the last time an EF-4 tornado struck St. Louis. The paths of both tornadoes are eerily similar.

Video: Raw footage from inside St. Louis-Lambert Airport as tornado struck.

Groundhog Day Blizzard – Midwesterners won’t soon forget the weather from Groundhog’s Day 2011 as 1-2 feet of snow fell from northeastern Oklahoma to lower Michigan. The hardest hit states were Missouri and Illinois. The City of Chicago was brought to a standstill after 20.2 inches of snow fell. Hundreds of people were stranded on Lake Shore Drive during the rush hour as a bus jack-knifed. For 8 hours, responders worked to free the stranded motorists all while dealing with heavy snow and 60 mph wind.

Nearly five dozen motorists were stranded along Illinois Highway 47 near Huntley, Illinois for nearly 12 hours. Another three dozen motorists became stranded on Illinois Highway 72 in Northern Illinois. Cell phone calls from motorists were played on local media as snowmobile clubs raced to the rescue.

At its height, 100,000 people were without power in Northern and Central Illinois. 80 traffic accidents were reported in Northern Illinois due to the snow. 1,100 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Insured losses were greater than $1 Billion with total losses near $2 Billion. 36 people died as a result of the blizzard.

Video: WLS 6pm newscast

Mississippi River Flooding – It rained three times as much as it should have this spring along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In addition, many places within the watershed saw near record snowfalls. This combined to produce an historic flood along the Mississippi and its tributaries. Estimated losses are in the three to four billion dollar range with at least six deaths. On May 2nd, a decision was made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to blast away the Birds Point-New Madrid Levee system. This saved the town of Cairo, Illinois from inundation. Unfortunately, it meant that $317 million worth of agriculture and property was inundated and destroyed.

Within a week, the floodwater reached Memphis, Tennessee inundating much of the city. By the second week of May, the waters were receding in Illinois and Missouri but the devastation was just beginning downstream. For the first time since 1973 the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana was opened. This allowed the flooded Mississippi River to change course and flood the Atchafalaya River basin instead. This saved New Orleans from epic flooding but caused flooding of small towns, homesteads, and low-lying agriculture areas of Southern Louisiana.

Total estimated damage of the Mississippi River flooding: $5 Billion.

Video: KTVI live report as levees were breached intentionally.

PBS Report on flooding in Louisiana

Hurricane Irene – The only hurricane to make an impact on the United States coast in 2011 did more than $10 billion damage and killed 56 people. The ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed in the Windward Islands and moved west making a landfall in Puerto Rico, severely flooding many locations, killing one person.

Irene intensified into a Category 3 hurricane while passing the Bahamas before making a landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks on August 27th as a Category 1 hurricane. After reemerging over water and weakening to a tropical storm, Irene came ashore a final time near Brigantine Island, New Jersey early on August 28th.

Forecasts were dire in New York City. Enough so, that the MTA ceased all train service the night before landfall…the first time in history mass transportation was halted. This was done to protect the assets of the train cars in the event of inundation. Conditions never reached the serious projections in New York City causing many to blame local media for blowing the storm out of proportion.

Unfortunately power outages were record-breaking and within 36 hours the state of Vermont experienced the worst flooding in state history.

Video: Jim Cantore reacts to Vermont flooding on The Weather Channel

Midwest Tornado Outbreak (Joplin) – When most people think of “Tornado Alley,” few people think of Missouri. However the city of Joplin, Missouri was brought to its knees as an EF-5 tornado touched down on May 22, 2011.

Between May 21st and May 26th, 185 people died as a result of 180 tornadoes. Most of the deaths occurred within the city limits of Joplin, Missouri on the afternoon of May 22nd as an EF-5 tornado devastated much of the town including the largest hospital in the region.

Earlier in the day, a deadly tornado was spawned in the Minneapolis area. At about the same time as the tornado in Joplin, tornadoes were spawned in the Rockford metro. WREX performed non-stop coverage, even while evacuating the studio as the tornado moved close by. Due to our coverage, the real extent of the damage in Joplin wasn’t seen until the next day.

Tornadoes were reported in fifteen states. Damage from the outbreak is estimated at $9.1 billion.

Video: The Weather Channel was chasing the storm along Interstate 44 and was able to broadcast live within minutes in Joplin.

 

2011 Super Outbreak (Tuscaloosa) – Between April 25th and April 28th, 353 tornadoes touched down killing 346 people. The outbreak was the largest in United States history with more twisters than the 1974 Super Outbreak.

Many major cities were directly impacted by strong tornadoes including Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The most notable tornado from this event struck the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama on April 27th. The tornado was on the ground for nearly 81 miles and was as wide as 1.5 miles. It killed 64 people and injured 1,500. It was given a final rating of EF-4 with wind of 190mph. The three-day outbreak caused $10.2 billion in damage.

To put this disaster in perspective, the costliest natural disaster in United States history was Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which was ten times more costly and killed five times as many people.

In total, 546 people lost their lives because of tornadoes in 2011. That’s more people killed because of twisters since 1936, long before widespread mass communication via television, radio, and social media.

Video: ABC33/40 coverage of Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado as it happened.

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This post was written by qni_it on December 27, 2011

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