An outbreak of 132 tornadoes across nine states from March 2 to March 3 is the U.S.’s first billion-dollar weather disaster of 2012. While the numbers are preliminary, the tornadoes caused over $1.5 billion in damage and killed at least 40 people. Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio took the brunt of the damage, with 23, 13 and 4 deaths respectively.
In 2011, the U.S. experienced a record 14 separate climate disasters that caused $1 billion or more in damage, including five tornado outbreaks. The most costly was a tornado outbreak in late April which produced 343 tornadoes across the midwestern and southern states, killed 321 people and caused $10.2 billion in damage.
Unseasonably warm temperatures in late February and early March across huge swaths of the United States created conditions that lead to this year’s early March tornadoes. Tornado outbreaks this early in the year are unusual. The preliminary count for March tornadoes is 223, which would make it the most active March ever recorded.
“When people talk about what’s normal for tornado activity, well, there really isn’t a “normal” for tornado activity because it is an atypical atmospheric event. That makes it very difficult to quantify what normal is,” said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. As for the disastrous weather outlook for the rest of 2012, a mild winter and lack of snow in most of the eastern U.S. means that destructive flooding is less likely. In 2011, flooding accounted for two billion-dollar disasters. However, dry conditions in California, Nevada and Arizona mean that the threat of devastating wildfires is increased.
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