2011 a disaster for severe weather

Hundreds of cars were stranded on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago after a winter blizzard of historic proportions blasted an otherwise snow-tough city on Feb. 2.

WASHINGTON -- America smashed the record for billion-dollar weather disasters this year with a deadly dozen -- and counting.

With an almost biblical onslaught of twisters, floods, snow, drought, heat and wildfire, the U.S. in 2011 has seen more weather catastrophes that caused at least $1 billion in damage than it did in all of the 1980s, even after the dollar figures from back then are adjusted for inflation.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration added two disasters to the list Wednesday, bringing the total to 12. The two are the Texas, New Mexico and Arizona wildfires and the mid-June tornadoes and severe weather.

NOAA uses $1 billion as a benchmark for the worst weather disasters.

Extreme weather in America this year killed more than 1,000 people, according to National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes. The dozen billion-dollar disasters alone add up to $52 billion.

The old record for $1 billion disasters was nine, in 2008.

Hayes, a meteorologist since 1970, said he has never seen a year for extreme weather like this, calling it "the deadly, destructive and relentless 2011."

And this year's total may not stop at 12. Officials still are adding up the damage from Tropical Storm Lee and the pre-Halloween Northeast snowstorm, and so far each is at $750 million. And there still is nearly a month left in the year.

Scientists blamed an unlucky combination of global warming and freak chance. They said even with the long-predicted increase in weather extremes triggered by manmade climate change, 2011 in the U.S. was wilder than they predicted.