America Is a Bull's-eye for Extreme Weather

If extreme weather were personified as fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, the United States would be represented by Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago – a couple of fighters he defeated. 

America is the punching bag for severe weather events. No other country in the world gets slugged with as many – and as extreme – storms as we do. 

That's according to weather experts Rick Spinrad, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Kathie Dello, a climatologist in North Carolina. 

The U.S. has been blessed with a wide variety of beautiful scenery. Including majestic mountains, luscious valleys, fertile farmland, and gorgeous lakes and rivers. But it has also been cursed with repeated knockout punches from catastrophic weather events.  

Geography Is to Blame 

Why do we get hit with so many more violent storms than other countries? Blame geography. We sustain an endless series of jarring left jabs and roundhouse rights due to having lengthy coastlines along two oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. Plus jet streams affected by mountain ranges and flatlands. 

The resulting vicious weather events are not confined to a particular time of year. For 12 months every year, one part of the country or another gets beaten into submission by Mother Nature.

Including with hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Plus severe thunderstorms, lightning, and atmospheric rivers. As well as nor'easters, blizzards, and ice storms. Not to mention derechos, monsoons, dust storms, and the periodic polar vortex.

Dello told the Associated Press that it's all about "where we are on the globe. It's truly a little bit... unlucky."

The National Centers for Environmental Information defines a weather disaster as one that causes damages and/or costs of over $1 billion. By that definition, there have been 348 weather and climate disasters in the U.S. since 1980. Which comes out to about eight per year.

A 'Clash of Air Masses'

Susan Cutter is director of the Hazards Vulnerability and Resilience Institute at the University of South Carolina.

She said that while China has more people and a large land mass like the U.S., "they don't have the same kind of clash of air masses... that is producing a lot of the severe weather."

Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University, believes the top two culprits are the Gulf of Mexico and elevated terrain in the West.

Dry air from the West travels over the Rocky Mountains and meets up with warm, moist air from the Gulf. When combined with a jet stream, storms develop.

Spinrad explained that we can't get away from it without moving to another country. "It is a reality that regardless of where you are in the country, where you call home, you've likely experienced a high-impact weather event firsthand." 

Location, Location, Location 

America just happens to be located right between the Arctic and the tropics. The cold air from the former and warm air from the latter meet and clash regularly. That's what drives the jet stream.

The mountain ranges – Appalachians and Rockies – both run north and south, which affect prevailing winds from the West. 

The Gulf of Mexico sends its hot and moist air underneath the cooler air lifted by the mountains, a phenomenon unseen in most of the rest of the world.

While every part of the country is prone to some kind of weather disaster, the South may have it the worst of all. That's because folks there experience everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to flooding, wildfires, and the occasional blizzard.

And, of course, states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Louisiana jut out into large bodies of water, so they are vulnerable to hurricanes. 

Our Choices, Our Infrastructure

But we can't blame everything on geography. Yes, those weather events will occur regardless of where we live. But millions of people choose to live near large bodies of water. We keep moving to areas that are at high risk for storms and flooding. 

And we spend billions of dollars annually on a wide variety of projects, but not enough on repairing and fortifying an aging infrastructure. Also, building standards have gone down in a number of areas.

Marshall Shepherd is a former president of the American Meteorological Society. He said, "Our infrastructure is crumbling and nowhere near being climate-resilient at all."

Brown University professor of environment and society, Kim Cobb, said, "It's sad that we have to live these crushing losses."

Feeling Powerless? Protect with Preparedness

But maybe extreme weather events in the U.S. have run their course and we can expect calm and peaceful conditions ahead? Nope.

The experts all agree that even "more extreme" weather is headed our way. In other words, it will just keep getting worse.      

We're powerless to stop it, and that is frustrating. But we're not powerless to protect ourselves from the inevitable. 

Make an emergency preparedness plan and stock up on what survival gear you can afford. Don't leave your survival to chance like so many others are doing. You might have to take a couple of punches, but you'll stay on your feet until the final bell.    

Leave a comment

*Required Fields