Every year, Mother Nature likes to remind us who’s the boss and 2011 was no different. In fact, it was the second most expensive year on record for insurers, costing $108 billion. Here’s a look back at the 10 most memorable natural disasters of 2011 in chronological order.
Snow and wind are not unusual in the winter in Chicago, and until this year schools hadn’t been closed for snow-related issues since 1999. Unfortunately, 20.2 inches of snow and wind chill temperatures at 20 and 30 degrees below zero were enough to close transit, courts, schools, roads and even leave the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, Lake Shore Drive, littered with more than 100 abandoned cars.
This earthquake is memorable, not for the amount of damage it caused, but because it struck central Chile in almost exactly the same spot in early February where a massive magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit in late February the year before. Because of lessons learned in that disaster, the government, emergency workers and citizens were better prepared and no one was reported dead from the incident.
On March 11, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the northeast coast of Japan and caused a geographic chain reaction, culminating in a massive tsunami that eventually compromised operations at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The death toll was totaled at 15,698, with 4,666 people still believed to be missing. Even now, after spending billions of dollars, clean-up efforts are still underway, areas of Japan are still flooded and certain sectors of manufacturing have remained sluggish, slowing production of innumerable products and negatively affecting Japan’s economy.
On April 28, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that 173 tornadoes touched down in the South. The death toll climbed over 300 and this worst tornado outbreak since 1974 caused nuclear power plants to go offline, left thousands homeless and more than a million people without power.
In May, after a rainy April and dramatic melting of near-record winter snows, the Mississippi River began to spill over its banks. Cities in states along the river, including Memphis prepared for major damage to homes and businesses as the river crested at 48 feet, its second highest in recorded history. Many precautions were taken to protect the already fragile New Orleans as the flooding made its way to the downstream city.
Early in the evening on May 22, tornado sirens sounded in Joplin, MO. Shortly thereafter, a three-quarter mile wide F5 tornado touched down, leaving a six mile long path of destruction, including a direct hit on St. John’s Regional Medical Center, killing more than 160 people. Damage cost estimations for the worst tornado in the US in 64 years are in the billions. Charitable organizations are still collecting resources to send to the citizens of the ravaged city to help them get back on their feet.
Starting in late May and persisting through most of June, the largest wildfire in the state’s history raged in Arizona and then jumped the border to New Mexico. The massive blazes damaged more than 469,000 acres of land and dislocated thousands of people from cities, towns and neighborhoods across the states. Then, in September, another wildfire destroyed more than 770 homes and burned tens of thousands of acres, becoming the biggest in that state’s history.
In August, a rare earthquake struck in Virginia, and was felt as far away as Chicago and Montreal, Canada. Shockwaves from the magnitude 5.8 quake reached the nation’s capitol and did substantial damage to many historical sites, including the Washington National cathedral and the Washington Monument. The structure remains closed to the public with no reported timeline for reopening as repairs are being made.
Hurricane Irene began a slow journey up the Atlantic on August 15 near Africa and, after doing severe damage in the Bahamas, made landfall twice in the US. On August 27, it hit North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane and then New Jersey on August 28 as a 75 mph hurricane. The storm caused massive flooding and led to the, halting of air travel, left three million people without power and will likely be known as one of the ten costliest in US history. Flooded areas are still struggling to recover.
In late October, the worst earthquake to hit the country rocked Turkey at a magnitude of 7.1 on the Richter scale. More than 2,000 buildings were demolished and killed more than 600 people. A second, smaller, earthquake hit a couple of weeks later in early November with a reported death toll of more than 40.