From the ABC 7 Weather team

Bob Ryan's look at weather extremes: Is a potent winter ahead?

November 17, 2011 - 12:16 PM
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We have seen $50 billion worth of weather disasters in the U.S. in 2011, and meteorological experts wonder if this the new "normal." Bob Ryan discusses.

Should we expect an extremely snowy winter this year to go with all the other weather extremes of late? Here, fans wait as ground crews clear falling snow from the field before the Army-Fordham game in West Point during the surprise (Photo: Associated Press)

It started with thundersnow and ended with a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm in New England. And in between, a series of floods, thunderstorms, hurricanes and heatwaves characterized one of the most active extreme weather years in recent memory.

In all, we have seen $50 billion worth of weather disasters in the United States in 2011, and it's leaving experts and observers to wonder if this is the new normal.

Whatever you think the reason for it is, the surface of the earth is rapidly warming – almost two degrees in the last 100 years. Even skeptics have accepted this. It's certainly hard to ignore the seemingly endless chain of severe weather events across the nation this year.

After the January storm that crippled D.C.'s infrastructure, we had record snowstorms in Philadelphia, New England and Chicago.

In late April, a devastating tornado outbreak, including five EF-5 monsters, killed hundreds across the South, especially in Joplin, Mo. and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Mississippi River flooded to historic levels. On the flip side, Texas and the southern plains went into an extreme historic drought during the hottest summer ever in Oklahoma and the Lone Star State. Meanwhile, it was the hottest June and July ever here in Washington.

Then came the tropical storms, Irene and Lee, which brought historic floods across the eastern seaboard, even to Vermont, of all places.

So, what speaks to all these extremes? Meteorological experts are telling us to get used to it.

"Something is going on, but it's still really hard to take out the fact that some years, you actually get a lot of weather extremes," Paul Kocin of the National Centers for Environmental Protection says.

Is relief on the way? This year, a La Niña pattern is in the cards, which usually means that a winter free of extremes is on the horizon.

"All it takes is one," Kocin says, though, when it comes to winter storms.

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