On the eve of what is supposed to be one whopping big snow storm here in the Northeast, one can only wonder if Mother Nature is preparing us for yet another horrendous weather year. Last year was one of the costliest on record.
In 2012, at least 11 weather events, each causing more than $1 billion in losses, were delivered upon this nation. Tornados, hurricanes, wildfires and drought were just some of the fire and brimstone that left 349 people dead while leaving millions of inhabitants seeking shelter.
Out west, those "purple mountain majesties" were hidden by months of thick smoke as almost 10 million acres of national forest was reduced to blackened stumps. At the same time, those "fruited plains" and "amber waves of grain" shriveled away, replaced by acres of cracked, parched earth. After months of waterless weather, the 2012 drought spread over half the United States, from California, north to Idaho and the Dakotas and then east to Indiana and Illinois. Think "Dust Bowl."
That drought persisted all year and continues today in much of the nation's mid-section. Over 123 of those deaths and billions in damages can be attributed to that drought alone. Of course, the drought played a major role in spreading the wild fires, which gave us our second worst fire season in over a decade in the western U.S.
One can only wonder how the high temperatures interacted with other weather conditions to trigger an unrelenting series of tornados and severe thunderstorms in places like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and much of the Southern Plains. Forty-eight deaths, countless casualties and $14.5 billion in damages had many residents in a dozen states as shell-shocked as war victims.
There was even an unusual combination of high winds and severe storms (called the Derecho Event) that cut a swath of death and damage through the mid-Atlantic from New Jersey to South Carolina this summer. It caused 28 deaths and $3.75 billion in losses.
There was also little left shining from "sea to shining sea" except search lights during the nation's two largest hurricanes: Isaac, which blew in from the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Sandy that made a shambles of much of the East Coast.
It was Sandy that skewed the numbers last year. The Super storm killed 131 people and estimated damages have peaked at $50 billion.
Only 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, Wilma, Rita and Dennis, generated more deaths (2,000) and worse damage ($187 billion). And the damage caused by Mother Nature is on the increase.
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, according to the National Climatic Data Center, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it was rare to see more than two or three $1 billion, weather-related damage events annually. We had many years where the losses totaled less than $20 million per year. But today, the standout years during those decades have now become fairly common. Billion dollar events have become twice as frequent as they were back in 1996 and in the proceeding 15 years.
So as you read this today, ‘Nemo the nor'easter,' will have descended upon us. It is forecasted to pile up the white stuff at the rate of an inch an hour around here. Over in Boston, it could be much worse.
Let's hope everyone survives it. Unfortunately, this may only be the first big weather event of many that we will endure this year. In which case, 2013 will simply be adhering to what is now the new normal in weather-related costs.
C'mon, Mother Nature, go pick on someone else.
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management, managing over $200 million for investors in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of this commentary is or should be considered investment advice or a promotion of Berkshire Money Management.