WEATHER

Disasters in U.S.: An extreme and exhausting year

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Nature is pummeling the United States this year with extremes.

Damage in Joplin, Missouri after a tornado struck. (Photo: Associated Press)

Unprecedented triple-digit heat and devastating drought. Deadly tornadoes leveling towns. Massive rivers overflowing. A billion-dollar blizzard. And now, unusual hurricane-caused flooding in Vermont.

If what's falling from the sky isn't enough, the ground shook in places that normally seem stable: Colorado and the entire East Coast. On Friday, a strong quake triggered brief tsunami warnings in Alaska. Arizona and New Mexico have broken records for wildfires.

Total weather losses top $35 billion, and that's not counting Hurricane Irene, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. There have been more than 700 U.S. disaster and weather deaths, most from the tornado outbreaks this spring.

Last year, the world seemed to go wild with natural disasters in the deadliest year in a generation. But 2010 was bad globally, and the United States mostly was spared.

This year, while there have been devastating events elsewhere, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Australia's flooding and a drought in Africa, it's our turn to get smacked. Repeatedly.

"I'm hoping for a break. I'm tired of working this hard. This is ridiculous," said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist who runs Weather Underground, a meteorology service that tracks strange and extreme weather. "I'm not used to seeing all these extremes all at once in one year."

The U.S. has had a record 10 weather catastrophes costing more than a billion dollars: five separate tornado outbreaks, two different major river floods in the Upper Midwest and the Mississippi River, drought in the Southwest and a blizzard that crippled the Midwest and Northeast, and Irene.

What's happening, say experts, is mostly random chance or bad luck. But there is something more to it, many of them say. Man-made global warming is increasing the odds of getting a bad roll of the dice.

Sometimes the luck seemed downright freakish.

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