Hurricane Harvey Tops List of Most Extreme Weather of 2010s

(CN) – Among a list of the most extreme weather events in the last decade, Hurricane Harvey – which ravaged Texas and Louisiana in 2017 – stood out as the most severe from the group, according to a study released Tuesday.

Climate change-fueled temperature spikes in the Gulf of Mexico powered Hurricane Harvey’s devastating force, which led to destructive flooding causing over $108 billion in damage and the deaths of 82 people.

Hurricanes and other storms of similar size and strength were among the costliest and deadliest on record, according to the study published in the magazine Weatherwise.

Interstate 10 in Houston is closed in 2017 due to floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Harvey topped the list of record-breaking US weather events, followed by the “Frankenstorm” Hurricane Sandy – later categorized as a superstorm – which knocked out power for more than 8 million people in 17 states, leaving some New Yorkers in the dark for nearly two weeks.

The New York City subway system is still undergoing repairs from damage caused by Sandy.

Third on the list is the deadly Hurricane Maria which ripped through the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in the same year as Harvey.

Thousands of Puerto Rican residents fled to the U.S. mainland after Hurricane Maria devastated their island, which has been working to recover from the storm amid a recent swarm of earthquakes.

Researcher and meteorologist Douglas Le Comte said in a statement climate change has only heightened the need for scientists and governments to track and study extreme weather events.

“Every year that goes by seems to bring a new round of record-breaking weather events,” Le Comte said. “Many disasters, such as powerful hurricanes, massive wildfires, unprecedented droughts, and record-smashing heat waves, have devastating consequences, not just in North America, but elsewhere as well. Witness the catastrophic wildfires in Australia.”

On the bright side, Le Comte – a Weatherwise contributing editor who worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center – said deaths have fallen due to improved building construction, enhanced forecasts and better-planned evacuation efforts.

“Rainfall is expected to be more intense in a warming world, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture,” Le Comte told Courthouse News. “I am not a climate scientist, but I will state the fairly obvious. Rising sea levels will increase the risk of flooding from storm surges, not just from hurricanes, but Nor’easters, and all coastal storms, and even non-weather-related high tides.”

He added, “Bottom line: think carefully before buying property near the coasts. And be sure you have insurance to protect from flooding.”

Researchers added that Harvey stood out from the list because the Category 4 storm was the wettest on record – leaving much of Houston under water at one point – and the second costliest in U.S. history at $125 billion in damage.

Hurricanes Maria and Sandy were the third and fourth costliest, respectively, while Hurricane Irma, which is ranked fourth on the extreme weather list, was the fifth costliest, the study said.

The price of damage caused by all events on the list – which claimed more than 4,000 lives and caused thousands of injuries – exceeded $400 billion, researchers found.

Other factors that contributed to a weather event’s ranking on the list include the size of the disaster and its rarity by meteorological standards. Wildfires, tornadoes and droughts, such as the Southern Plains Drought which occurred between 2010 and 2011, rounded out the top-ten list.

A “super outbreak” in 2011 included the largest ever recorded number of multiple tornadoes from the same weather system, researchers said in the study.

In April of that year, more than 300 twisters ravaged five southeast U.S. states while 180 tornadoes hit central and southern states a month later. The events claimed nearly 500 lives and left 1,150 injured, according to the study.

Extended periods of extreme heat and dryness were blamed for 95 deaths and upwards of $14 billion in losses to farmers and ranchers in states including Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.

Scientists compiled their findings after analyzing data from NOAA and the National Hurricane Center, as well as from the National Centers for Environmental Information’s 2019 report “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters.”

The 2019 Missouri River and North Central flooding event that devastated millions of acres of cropland and the 2010 North American “Snowmageddon” blizzard, which brought the Northeastern U.S. to a standstill, were close to making the top-ten list, researchers said.

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