2012′s Wild Weather Passes 2011 Billion-Dollar Disaster Record

BY Rebecca Jacobson  December 21, 2012 at 2:24 PM EDT

NJ_Swamped by the Ocean Aerial view of the damage from Superstorm Sandy over the Atlantic Coast in Seaside Heights, New Jersey October 31. Sandy was one of 11 billion-dollar disasters to hit the U.S. this year. Pool Photo by Doug Mills via Reuters.

Frankenstorm Sandy, wild winds in the Ohio Valley, wildfires in the Rockies and a sprawling drought amassed over $60 billion in damage across the country this year, making 2012 a costlier than 2011, according to a report from NOAA on Thursday.

We’ve been following the unusual weather patterns in our reports all year. NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan traveled to Texas to report on the how the drought caused two towns to go completely dry. These before-and-after images show the difference that the powerful “derecho” wind storm made across the mid-Atlantic in June. And in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, NewsHour reported on ideas for future barriers to protect New York from another storm.

The slide show below has images of the most memorable 2012 storms and natural disasters.

With a week to go, 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record for the United States said Jake Crouch, a climatologist for the National Climatic Data Center. Globally, it was the eighth warmest year on record.

Rising temperatures caused the Arctic sea ice to shrink to its third lowest level on record, Crouch said. Losing that ice has vast implications for future warming with ice cover acting as a sort of global “air conditioner.” Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center explains the phenomenon in this NewsHour interview from September.

Texas, the Central Plains and the Ohio Valley took the brunt of the damage this year, said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist for the National Climatic Data Center, where droughts and numerous tornadoes tore through suburban areas, destroying homes and crops. The ongoing drought across the American Plains and Southwest is the second largest in the area since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, Smith said.

While the escalating weird weather has hinted at climate change, it’s impossible to parse out which events specifically result from global warming, Crouch said. But the Yale Project on Climate Change and Communication found that these disasters swayed public opinion on the subject. According to the group’s October survey, 74 percent of Americans believed that climate change was influencing the erratic weather they were experiencing, whether it was a storm or a heat wave.

Looking into next year, NOAA predicts that most of the southern United States — from California and Georgia, stretching as far north as Wyoming — will continue to experience higher than average temperatures through January and February.