giovedì 8 settembre 2011

Weather disasters costing U.S. billions

Blizzards. Tornadoes. Floods. Record heat and drought, followed by wildfires. The first eight months of 2011 have brought strange and destructive weather to the United States. From the blizzard that dumped almost two feet of snow on Chicago, to killer tornadoes and heat waves in the south, to record flooding, to wildfires that have burned more than 1,000 homes in Texas in the last few days, Mother Nature has been in a vile and costly mood. Climate experts point to global warming, meteorologists cite the influence of La Nina or natural variability, and, in the case of tornadoes hitting populated areas, many simply call the death and destruction bad luck. But given the variety and violence of both short-term weather events and longer-term effects like a Southwestern drought that has lasted years, more scientists say climate itself seems to be shifting and weather extremes will become more common. "A warmer atmosphere has more energy to power storms. We've loaded the dice," said Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground, Inc. speaking on Wednesday at a news conference on climate. "Years like 2011 may become the new normal in the United States in coming decades." The year has been expensive, in terms of crops, property and lives lost. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has kept track of the cost of weather disasters since 1980, and 2011 has seen 10 separate natural disasters with economic losses of $1 billion or more, according to Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for the National Weather Service. The previous record was nine, set in 2008. The costs go ever higher, with the nine 2011 disasters even before Hurricane Irene two weeks ago costing $35 billion, Vaccaro said. Other years have been more expensive overall due to single events, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But 2011 has already moved into the top 25 percent of the costliest years, and the hurricane season isn't half over, Vaccaro said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it will needs $5.2 billion in known disaster relief for the year that starts October 1. But that doesn't include Hurricane Irene, which caused devastating flooding in Vermont and New Jersey, and is expected to cost at least $1.5 billion in relief, FEMA says. nytimes

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