Going to Extremes

Weather (pun intended) it’s torrential downpours in Singapore, dozens of feet of snow in the Arctic or 130oF+ the heat from the searing sands of the Sahara desert, in the United States we’re used to thinking of global record-setting weather as taking place in other countries around the world. But the U.S. actually has some of the most extreme weather on Earth.

According to the May 16, 2013 issue of USA Today, the U.S. holds a variety of world weather records, including most snowfall in one year (95 feet), heaviest one-hour rainfall (12 inches), largest hailstone (8-inch diameter), farthest traveled tornado (219 miles), and hottest temperature (134 degrees).

In the same article, Randy Cerveny, a professor of geography at Arizona State University, explains that our country experiences 80%-90% of all the tornadoes that occur in the world. This high percentage is a result of North America not having an east-west mountain range, so there’s nothing to stop cold winds from the north meeting the warm weather from the south, such as warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of massive fronts of warm and cold air colliding is what helps create large, destructive storms.

This year has provided numerous examples of extreme weather in the U.S. While March-April had almost record low instances of tornadoes, May more than made up for those low months with a large number of devastating storms. During the week of May 20 this year, a killer tornado of exceptional ferocity struck Oklahoma. The National Weather Service confirmed it to be an EF 5, the highest level on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF). The tornado had estimated peak wind speeds of 200 to 210 miles an hour and was approximately 1.3 miles wide.

Extreme weather can have an important economic impact on the entire country, not just the areas hit by tornadoes. Leslie Scism, writing recently in the Wall Street Journal blog after the tragic Oklahoma storm, noted that “Severe thunderstorms and tornados caused $15 billion in U.S. insured losses last year, following $25 billion in such losses the year before when the industry suffered two of the costliest tornado events in U.S. history: the $7.5 billion in insured damages (in 2012 dollars) arising out of April 2011 twisters that struck multiple states, most notably Alabama; and the $7 billion in insured damages (in 2012 dollars) that resulted from the May 2011 tornado outbreak, which also impacted numerous states.”

U.S. tornado season typically goes through August, while hurricane season starts June 1, so we still have a long season of potentially severe weather ahead of us. Crawford takes a close interest in weather because its claims adjusting work takes it directly into areas struck by severe storms. To better understand how we work with the effects of severe weather, there’s a brief video here. Ever experienced a tornado or hurricane first-hand? If you have any tornado stories please share them below.

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