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The Top Weather Killers in the U.S.

July 31, 2013

By WeatherBug's James Stanley


Although forecasting abilities and technologies have improved significantly over the last 50 years, destructive and deadly weather can occur every day. Tornado Alley, Mexican Gulf and East Coast residents seem to face the brunt of the death and destruction thanks to tornadoes and hurricanes.

Since the U.S.`s National Weather Service began recording weather hazard costs in 1988, the U.S. alone incurred almost half a trillion dollars through 2012. The yearly average expenses, from 2003 to 2012, are slightly more than $27 billion. In 2012 alone, there were 11 weather and climate disaster events that each had exceeded $1 billion, cumulatively costing more than $110 billion in damages and 377 deaths. At least 56 percent of those damages and 33 percent of the deaths resulted from Superstorm Sandy which estimated $62 billion in damages.

Within Tornado Alley, there are several U.S. regions: First, the Plains, which received 513 tornadoes on average from 1991 to 2010; Texas received approximately 30 percent and Kansas 18.7 percent of that number. Secondly, the Mississippi Valley received 338 tornadoes on average per year. Lastly, the Ohio and Tennessee valleys received 88 tornadoes on average.

Six out of ten of the deadliest tornadoes, or those with the most fatalities, have actually taken place in the Mississippi Valley. Only one of those ten took place in the Plains, back in 1947, when an F-5 tornado travelled through Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, killing 181 and injuring 970 people. The most recent tornado to make number 7 of this list was the infamous 2011 Joplin, Mo., tornado that killed 158 people and injured 1,000.

From mid-May to November`s end, the main threat for Mexican Gulf and East Coast residents is an Atlantic tropical cyclone or more famously known as a hurricane. These weather beasts produce a number of threats, such as, storm surges, flooding, damaging winds, and even tornadoes. The most costly and the third deadliest hurricane to strike the U.S. was the Katrina in 2005, with $108 billion in damages and 1,200 deaths.

Believe it or not, neither tornadoes nor hurricanes, two very destructive and costly weather events, were the number one weather killer in the U.S. over the last 30 years. Both kinds have made it to number two, but what has made it to the top?

The rankings of 2012 for the top-5 weather killers are:

  • #5-Flooding with 29 deaths,
  • #4- Rip Currents with 42,
  • #3- Tornadoes with 70,
  • #2-Wind with 104,
  • #1- Heat with 155.

How about the top 5 on average for the last 10 years, from 2003 to 2012?

  • #5- Rip Currents (46),
  • #4- Wind (51),
  • #3- Flooding (76),
  • #2- Hurricanes (109),
  • #1- Heat (117)

Lastly, the top 4 weather killers on average in the last 30 years, 1983 to 2012, are:

  • #4- Hurricanes (47),
  • #3- Lightning (52),
  • #2- Tornadoes (74), and
  • #1- Flooding (89)

Note: Only four killers were listed here because death statistics for heat were not recorded until 1986.

One danger that made these rankings was wind, but how can wind be the cause of death separate from tornadoes? Wind is the primary cause of trees, power lines and poles falling on houses, cars and people. In addition, airplane flights and the safety of those onboard are jeopardized when they fly through intense, localized, downward gusts of wind in severe thunderstorms called downbursts. When the downburst air currents reach the surface, the wind speeds created can reach 95 mph and above, strong enough to obliterate structures and flatten trees.

If you want to know about other weather killers, click this link, as well as the link . If you do not have Adobe Reader, click link.

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