Weather and climate disasters mar 2017

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been updating the weather and climate disasters for 2017. As of mid-December, there were 16 major events that had losses of $1 billion or more across the United States. Since 1980, there have been over 220 major weather and climate-related events with totals exceeding $1.2 trillion. Later this year, NOAA will have an update on these figures for last year, which will obviously be substantially higher.

For 2017, the 16 big events included one major drought, two floods, one large freeze, seven severe storms, three tropical cyclones and two wildfires, not including the Thomas Fire in Southern California, which will likely be added to this list very soon.

The first extreme and expensive weather event began in January, as 79 tornadoes were spotted across the southern U.S. from Texas to South Carolina. This outbreak was the third-highest to occur during a winter month since records began for this type of an event in 1950. Another big tornado outbreak was seen Feb. 28 to March 1, 2017. More than 70 twisters across the central and southern portions of the country caused widespread damage to homes and businesses. This was the second largest outbreak of tornadoes to occur in early 2017.

In a matter of days after the last big outbreak, beginning March 6 and continuing through March 8, there was another series of big tornadoes that developed across the Midwest. Missouri and Illinois reported the most twisters. Nearly 1 million residents lost power in Michigan due to destructive straight-line winds.

Severe thunderstorms with heavy rains and hail also led to multibillion-dollar damage claims in the spring of 2017. From March 26 to 28, large-sized hail and very strong winds hit near Dallas, causing widespread damage. The effects were felt in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. From May 8-11, hail and wind also caused heavy damage to parts of the Denver metro area.

Severe weather conditions persisted into June across the central and eastern U.S. as Minnesota reported hail and high wind damage. That storm caused damage to other states including Wisconsin, Wyoming, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Thunderstorms and tornadoes are not the only events to lead to billion-dollar losses. On March 14-16, a rare late-season severe freeze damaged precious fruit crops across many southeastern states, especially in Georgia and South Carolina. The freeze was significant because many crops were blooming nearly a month ahead of schedule due to very warm temperatures prior to mid-March.

Of course, one of the big weather stories last year was the three big hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. or its territories. From Aug. 25-31, Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 monster, made landfall near Rockport, Texas. More than 30 inches of rain fell, leading to massive flooding. Category 4 Hurricane Irma hit Cudjoe Key, Fla., after heavily damaging the U.S. Virgin Islands. This event happened from Sept. 6-12. Sustained winds of 185 mph were reported for about 37 hours.

Hurricane Maria was another Category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico in mid-September, severely damaging Puerto Rico’s power and commerce for an extended time.

Right now, Californians are hoping for rain to avoid a new drought season. But from Feb. 8-22, nearly continuous heavy rainfall in northern and central California led to massive flooding and landslides. On one side were the floods and then came the fires as the West dried up. During the summer of 2017, many wildfires were seen across the western U.S. that burned over 8.4 million acres. Blazes from Montana and Canada sent thick smoke down to North Idaho, pushing poor air quality levels to record highs.

The wildfire in California’s wine country, which began on Oct. 8, was the costliest in the Golden State’s history. Insurance claims are estimated at $9.4 billion. In 1991, the Oakland Hills fire was the most expensive, and when adjusted for inflation, had about $2.8 billion in claims. However, the record-breaking Thomas Fire has burned close to 282,000 acres and destroyed over 1,000 structures. It’s possible that this blaze will be another multibillion-dollar disaster. The cost alone to fight this massive wildfire is closing in on $200 million.

The extreme dryness spread from Montana into the Dakotas during the spring and fall period of 2017. Crops were heavily damaged, leading to a lack of feed for cattle.

As for our local weather, the snowfall season for North Idaho and surrounding regions is going to be another good one. More snow is expected this month and Cliff and I see January as being one of the snowiest months for the season.

Thanks to the cooler and expanding La Nina sea-surface temperature event, we should end up around 85 to 90 inches of snow for Coeur d’Alene. In the area ski resorts, there should approximately 225 to 250 inches at Mt. Spokane to around 350-400 total inches at Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and Montana’s Whitefish Mountain. Seasonal high mountain snowfall totals are already around 150 inches.

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