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Record number of billion-dollar weather disasters strikes US in early 2017

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 4/12/2017 Jillian MacMath

Floodwaters surround homes and cars in San Jose, California, in February. © NOAH BERGER Floodwaters surround homes and cars in San Jose, California, in February. In the first three months of 2017, the United States experienced five weather and climate disasters costing over $1 billion each, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This is the highest number of billion-dollar disasters to take place during the first three months of the year since U.S. records of this type began in 1980.

It doubles the U.S. average number of disasters for January through March over the last five years.

“These months were part of a transition period from a very weak La Niña toward an El Niño,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Tyler Roys said.

La Niña refers to cooler-than-normal ocean water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. El Niño is the direct opposite, characterized by warmer-than-normal water temperatures in this region.

“During these transitions, we can experience a prolonged stormy period that may produce a higher-than-normal amount of extreme events,” Roys said.

Meteorologists say the transition is ongoing and an El Niño is expected to be underway by the second half of this summer.

This could mean that disaster events will continue to increase in number; however, they’re unlikely to occur at the same rate.

“With El Niño predicted to develop by late summer, we do expect the frequency to drop off,” Roys said.

To date, the disasters have included flooding and landslides across California in February, a March freeze in the Southeast that heavily damaged fruit crops, and three deadly and widespread tornado outbreaks across the midwestern, central and southern U.S.

Collectively, these events killed 37 people and resulted in $5.8 billion in damages.

The last time the weather pattern transitioned from a La Niña to El Niño was in 2012. That year, the U.S. recorded nine extreme events with most occurring during the transition period from February to August.

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