Although the weather is closing out the year on a mild note locally, officials are calling 2011 a year for the record books. A dozen weather-related disasters each caused $1 billion or more in damage across the country.

Although the weather is closing out the year on a mild note locally, officials are calling 2011 a year for the record books. A dozen weather-related disasters each caused $1 billion or more in damage across the country.

Some of them touched Eastern Jackson County or other parts of the state. Five were outbreaks of tornadoes, including the May 22-27 outbreak of 180 tornadoes in the Midwest and South. The worst of those was the May 22 tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., killing an estimated 160 people – the single deadliest tornado to hit the United States since the beginning of modern record-keeping in 1950.

Altogether, at least 177 people died and more than $9.1 billion in damage was done by tornadoes in that stretch of five days in late May. A month earlier, the 343 tornadoes of April 25-28 hammered the Midwest and South and killed 321 people. Most of those deaths were in Alabama, where Tuscaloosa was especially hard hit.

A couple of other $1 billion-plus events affected Eastern Jackson County:

n The Jan. 29-Feb. 3 blizzard that rolled across the Midwest and caused 36 deaths forced most of Missouri to virtually shut down for a day or so and even close Interstate 70 overnight once – a common occurance on interstates north of here but unheard of Missouri. The losses from the storm were put at $1.8 billion.

n Flooding on the Missouri River brought on by the melting of massive late-winter snowfall plus excessive rainfall – half a year’s worth in June alone – in the river’s upper basin caused at least five deaths and more than $1 billion in damage. There was high water but relatively little damage in Eastern Jackson County, but damage was lasting and significant upriver.

Other weather-and-climate-related disasters in 2011 included the Mississippi River flooding last spring; Hurricane Irene, which rolled up the East Coast in late August, leading to at least 45 deaths; the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona wildfires that destroyed 1,500 homes and killed five; and the ongoing extreme drought – often with high heat – in the Southwest and Southern Plains, with a cost in livestock, timber and crops pegged at nearly $10 billion and counting.

How does 2011 compare with other years? The 12 $1 billion-plus events are easily the most in one year in the past three decades. Only the nine events of 2008 (drought, tornadoes, three major hurricanes) and the eight of 1998 (a severe freeze in California, drought in the South, two major hurricanes) come close. No other year has had more than half a dozen.

This year’s dozen weather events also have caused an estimated $50 billion in damage, though that figure could go up. So far, that’s a little less than in 2008 but nowhere near the almost $200 billion in damages from 2005, the year of Katrina and three other major hurricanes.

Weather officials, of course, advise being prepared for severe weather. Although tornadoes, for example, tend to hit in the spring in this part of the country, they can occur in many times of the year. Nine relatively weak tornadoes caused damage in St. Louis last New Year’s Eve.

The recommendations are straightforward. Keep an eye on the weather and, when appropriate, an ear on the radio. Remember that most injuries and deaths in a tornado are from flying debris. Get in the basement, and stay away from windows. Get under something sturdy such as a heavy table, work bench or even a stairwell. Learn more at www.preparemetrokc.org/