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By Climatologist Cliff Harris

Article published December 28, 2011

Global weather patterns on virtually every continent went ‘crazy’ in 2011, thanks to the strongest ‘La Nina’ sea-surface temperature event on record early in the year.

Weather-related damage exceeded $265 billion worldwide in 2011. Whether by earthquake, air, fire or water, our planet took a harsh beating in the past 12 months. My 2011 scrapbooks ‘overflowed’ with pictures of natural disasters.

New Zealand was hit by a shallow 6.1 quake on February 21 that killed at least 181 people. The city of Christchurch suffered more than $12 billion in damage due to the quake being close to the surface near the center of town.

Just 3 weeks later on March 11, one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history, a powerful 9.0 magnitude tremor, 8,000 times stronger than the New Zealand quake, shook the ground for more than 5 minutes in northeastern Japan. (It actually shortened the day on earth by 5 microseconds!)

The resulting tsunami killed more than 20,000 people. More than 10,000 people were swept away in one town alone by a huge 30-foot wave that powered 6 miles inland leaving a 200-mile-wide debris field.

Christchurch, New Zealand was hit by a second less damaging earthquake in late December. Other quakes struck Turkey, Indonesia, Spain, Kyrgyzstan, Burma and Chile in 2011.

In the U.S. a 5.8 earthquake on August 23 damaged the Washington Monument and other buildings in Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

Later, on November 6, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake hit the state of Oklahoma causing minor damage. It was the largest quake in recorded history in the region.

As far as snowstorms were concerned, the January through early April period of 2011 was the snowiest such 95-day span in recorded history for 5,500 cities across the U.S.

More than three feet of snow was measured in January alone in New York City’s Central Park. The snowiest January on record in ‘the Big Apple’ killed 24 people, many due to heart attacks from shoveling tons of heavy, wet snow.

In Chicago, during an early January blizzard, more than 900 drivers were trapped by 6-8 foot snowdrifts for more than 9 hours on Lakeshore Drive along Lake Michigan.

When the all-time record U.S. snowpacks melted a month later than usual in a delayed spring of 2011, we saw the worst flooding on record along parts of the Mississippi River in May after a series of torrential downpours.

The Mighty Mississippi expanded to six times its normal width causing severe rural flooding after officials created a "planned disaster" in order to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans from Katrina-like floodwaters.

The biggest weather story this past year in the U.S. was the record number of "killer tornadoes" in April and May of 2011.

On April 14-15, in less than 48 hours, there were a record 206 tornadoes in 16 states reported. At least 38 people died.

Later on April 27, Tuscaloosa, Alabama was hit by a powerful tornado that killed dozens of people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.

On May 22, the largest single tornado ever observed in the U.S., at least since the 1930s, left Joplin, Missouri looking like "a war zone." The EF-5 twister killed 162 people and caused more than $8 billion in damage.

On June 1, three ‘rare’ Massachusetts tornadoes killed three people and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

The summer of 2011 was the hottest and driest such period on record in Texas. Many towns ran out of water. There were losses in crops and livestock that exceeded $5 billion in the Lone Star State. Another $1 billion was lost in early September near Austin, Texas from a wildfire that was 60 miles long and 6 miles wide. More than 1,600 homes were destroyed and at least 3.6 million acres burned.

Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida also suffered huge forest and brush fires in 2011. The fires in Arizona were the worst in the state’s history.

Elsewhere, Canada and Mexico had huge fires in 2011. In late December, enormous fires in northwestern Italy killed dozens of people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Floods caused $30 billion in damage last January in Australia along the East Coast. Brazil, Thailand and the Philippines had all-time record floods affecting millions of people and were continuing as of this late December, 2011 writing.

By extreme contrast, an ongoing drought of ‘Biblical proportions’ continued at year’s end to kill thousands of people in a 900,000 square mile area of northeastern Africa.

Hurricane ‘Irene’ on August 27 spared New York City, but caused the worst flooding in the state of Vermont since 1927. More than 10 inches of rain fell in central Vermont in less than 36 hours.

Just two months later, shortly before Halloween, the biggest early season snowstorm in at least 400 years buried western New England. Several towns in the region gauged more than three feet of snow.