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Western Drought Tops the List of 2014 Billion-Dollar Disasters in US

By By Michael Kuhne, Staff Writer
January 15, 2015, 5:26:40 AM EST

Of the eight different billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that occurred across the United States in 2014, the Western drought has been the most economically damaging, despite the silent nature of its stranglehold on one of the country's most productive agricultural hubs.

"Even though California has been somewhat resilient [by utilizing groundwater for agriculture], the western drought will be the most expensive," NOAA National Climatic Data Center Applied Climatologist Adam Smith said, adding that final assessments on the data are currently being conducted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the information for 2014's Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters on Thursday.

"The drought is a silent disaster, but the impacts are quite profound," Smith said.

Historic drought conditions gripped the majority of California for the entirety of 2014, making it the worst drought on record for the state, according to NOAA's January press release. Surrounding states were also impacted by severe drought including areas of Texas and Oklahoma.


There have been tremendous impacts to agriculture and to tourism, depending on time of year, Smith said.

The deadliest weather-related disaster to occur this past year was a devastating outbreak of severe weather, flooding and tornadoes that claimed 33 lives across the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast states in late April.


Overall when compared to 2013, this past year ranks similarly and is around the average when compared with 10 years of data for other billion-dollar disaster events.

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In 2011 and 2012, there was a noticeable increase in extreme weather events, according to Smith, but 2013 saw a return to average with a total of 9 events.

NOAA has been collecting data since 1980, which analyzes the frequency and economic impacts of weather and climate disasters, in order to provide a better perspective on the occurrence of these type of events and help minimize risk in the future, Smith said.


"This is just a piece of the data puzzle," he said, citing a rapidly changing society, currency inflation, vital infrastructure, technology, population expansion and urban growth outside of major cities. "It's multifaceted, and it's a challenging question on how to plan for the future."

While there is an increase in billion-dollar disasters over the course of 34 years, Smith said it is important to note not only changes in climate, but socio-economic changes as well.

"I think risk as a general concept is difficult for almost anyone to think of in terms of planning for the future," Smith said. "I think this [information] helps us to at least [get a better] perspective and minimize future impacts."

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