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A Year of Extreme Weather

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Aerial view of Burlington, North Dakota inundated with flood waters from the Souris River on June 25, 2011

Guest blog post by Assistant Administrator for Weather Services and Director of the National Weather Service Dr. Jack Hayes

As the extreme weather year of 2011 comes to a close, I want to reflect back on this year’s events and look ahead at ways to reduce the devastating impacts of weather on our society.

Crippling snowstorms in the Northeast and Midwest, violent tornadoes in the South, massive river flooding in the Central U.S., Hurricane Irene in the mid-Atlantic, and the epic drought in the Southern Plains accompanied by heat waves and devastating wildfires in some areas have all combined to make this a record-breaking year.

This is the first year since NOAA began keeping records that 12 separate weather events each caused more than $1 billion in damage.   The real story is not the number of events, but the severity of the impacts. Total economic losses from these 12 events have reached nearly $52 billion, and there have been more than 1000 weather-related death this year.

Could some of these deaths have been prevented; could the economic losses be reduced?   I think so and that is why we have launched a new initiative to build a Weather-Ready Nation.  This effort is designed to improve America’s responsiveness to weather events with the ultimate goal of saving more lives and livelihoods.

NOAA has many upgrades underway as part of the initiative such as the nationwide implementation of Dual Pol radar technology, the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program, and the Joint Polar Satellite System

In addition to improving the precision of forecasts and warnings, NOAA is exploring new ways to communicate the threat of weather to decision makers and the public more effectively by using social science research.

The Federal government cannot build a Weather-Ready Nation alone, which is why NOAA is leveraging a diverse network of partners critical to emergency response to participate in a national dialogue.  Next week, at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla., 150 leaders from local, state and federal government, emergency management agencies, media outlets, the science community and America’s weather industry will gather to identify, prioritize and set in motion actions to improve the public’s resiliency to severe weather. 

We can make 2012 a less destructive and deadly year by working collectively to become a Weather-Ready Nation.

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