John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Here's a grim reminder of the rising number of weather and climate calamities.
Crippling drought, tornado stampedes, and a record-setting deluge—these were some of the weather calamities in 2014 that each caused more than $1 billion in damages.
That's according to a new accounting from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, which has identified eight such disasters. That grim tally is lower than it was for the past three years (nine in 2013, 11 in 2012, an incredible 16 in 2011). But save for two other years it's still higher than all the other annual counts dating from 1980. The aggravated trauma of 2014 serves as an unpleasant reminder that throughout the world and especially North America, brutal weather disasters are becoming ever-more common.
Here are the catastrophes in 2014 that sowed widespread destruction to property and life—53 people died in these events:
And this chart puts 2014 in perspective with the gentler decades of yore. The good news for last year was it was spared a beating from a tropical cyclone, the most costly form of disaster on the historical record:
NOAA identified the West's atrocious drought as the longest-lasting disaster, lasting from the first to last day of 2014. The bone-dryness of the region was reflected in the lack of snowpack in California, where the drought rated the worst-ever in the state's record books:
The year's deadliest disaster was a springtime rash of tornadic activity over much of the nation's eastern half. Eighty-three confirmed twisters and biblical rainfall (more than 20 inches in two days in Pensacola, Florida) caused flash flooding and killed 33 people. Extreme Instability has unbelievable images of one of the storms, and here's chase footage of a hulking tornadoes in Mississippi:
There was also the swamping of Michigan and the Northeast in August, a result of a slow but water-loaded low-pressure system. Long Island racked up more than a foot of rain in 24 hours; in Islip, New York, the tally was a record-breaking 13.6 inches. Many vehicles were partly submerged in Detroit, including this one mounted by a stranded driver who appears to be meditating (perhaps over his decision to drive into the dang floodwaters).