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3 Weather Disasters in 2010 Make Billion-Dollar Damage List

A color-coded map shows the number of billion-dollar disasters each state has suffered because of extreme weather since 1980, when meteorologists first began compiling the data. (Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.)

Extreme weather in the United States brings with it a high price tag, according to a new federal report.

In the last three decades, 99 weather disasters have caused a billion or more dollars in damage across the 50 states, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Recently, the NCDC released the costs from disasters in 2010 a year which escaped with a comparatively low number of billion-dollar disasters: three.

"We had no hurricanes in the mix," said Tom Ross, a meteorologist with the NCDC and one of the authors of the report, who noted that no hurricanes made landfall in the United States in 2010.

Unfortunately, for the three regions affected by billion-dollar weather disasters, 2010 was still a devastating year.

Flooding disasters

In March, heavy rainfall and flooding in the Northeast, including the worst in Rhode Island's history, caused more than $1.5 billion in damages and killed 11 people.

Several days of flooding, hail, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in late April and early May left a trail of destruction across many Southern states, causing $2.3 billion in damages and killing 32 people. Tennessee was hit the hardest, and flooding in Nashville alone contributed to more than $1 billion in losses.

Finally, in mid-May of last year, a flurry of tornadoes and severe weather hit the middle of the country. Total losses exceeded $3 billion and three people died because of the storms. Oklahoma suffered the highest losses, with more than $1.5 billion in damages.

Hurricane Katrina

For the full report, the NCDC, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tallied the damage costs of everything from droughts to blizzards to floods across the United States since 1980.

Hurricanes and tropical storms were the costliest disasters by far, racking up $367.3 billion in the 30-year span, far outstripping the runner-up heat waves and droughts that accounted for $185.2 billion in losses.

Hurricane Katrina made 2005 the most devastating year in the three decades studied. Katrina alone caused a whopping $133.8 billion in damage and killed 1,833 people.

However, 2008 saw the highest number of costly disasters nine separate weather events, including tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, drought and three hurricanes, each costing $1 billion or more, hit the United States that year.

Be prepared

Ross said the data don't reveal any particular trends in the frequency or location of extreme weather events across the United States. However, the meteorologist did say the numbers can be affected by economic and population trends.

Southern states, especially those in the path of hurricanes, make the list most often, and there are implications for the losses incurred in extreme weather as more people move to the coast and build more expensive homes there.

"There are more people in harm's way, and there's more property in harm's way," Ross told OurAmazingPlanet.

Looking ahead, Ross said it's impossible to know what 2011 will look like, but he has a few guesses.

"I'd be surprised if we don't see a hurricane," Ross said. "We got spared last year, but I don't know how lucky we'll be this year."

Whatever 2011 brings, Ross said the most important thing is to remain weather-wise.

"Pay attention to watches and warnings issued in your area," Ross said. "You don't want to become a statistic on this list."

Reach Andrea Mustain at amustain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain.

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.