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Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin home to three of nation’s nine $1B disasters in 2022, as frequency increasing

Data from the National Centers for Environmental Information shows that in recent years, billion-dollar disasters are occurring at a more frequent pace.

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Each of the various disasters included in this map caused at least one billion dollars of damage to public and private property in 2022.
Graphic courtesy of the National Centers for Environmental Information
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin have already this year experienced three separate disasters that have each caused over a billion dollars in damage, a portion of nine such disasters across the United States this year.

Ranging from extended drought to derechos and tornadoes, the United States in 2022 has experienced nine major disasters causing a total of $10 billion in damage.

Across the Upper Midwest in May, a derecho swept across eastern North and South Dakota and two hail storms struck Minnesota and western Wisconsin, each severe enough to make the NCEI’s list of billion-dollar disasters.

Western Minnesota pummeled in early May hailstorms

Two large storm systems on May 9 heavy rainfall and massive hail pummeled residents across Minnesota, leaving behind large amounts of damage.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the first wave of thunderstorms plowed into Minnesota in the morning hours, featuring an arc of intense thunderstorms that raced east and northeast across the state.

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The storm featured two main hail cores, one of which was roughly 10 miles in width. Hail of up to two inches in diameter, or roughly the size of large hen eggs, fell Montevideo and Fergus Falls, while even larger hail of a 2.75-inch diameter fell at Clarkfield, Boyd, and Blomkest, Minnesota. Other areas of west central and southwestern Minnesota saw half-dollar to golf ball-sized hail.

Derek Olson, sheriff of Chippewa County, Minnesota, told the West Central Tribune that vinyl siding in the main hail core was “trashed,” as were roofs to vehicles and homes.

In multiple rounds of storms in the days following, Minnesota saw 23 counties impacted by multiple tornadoes, flooding and other impacts.

Citing $11 million in damage to public property, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz requested President Joe Biden declare the storms a disaster, which was approved by Biden on July 10.

May derecho sweeps eastern Dakotas, western Minnesota

On May 12, a massive storm system picked up intensity in northern Nebraska, crossing into South Dakota bringing with it a massive wall of dust.

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In Tripp, South Dakota, straight-line wind speeds reached a peak of 107 mph, causing grain bins to tip and even implode. Roughly 45 miles to the northeast, in Salem, South Dakota, wind speeds as high as 98 mph tore the roof of a local nursing home, flipped semis and uprooted trees. It even tipped a 1,500-foot-tall radio tower, sending it crashing to the ground below.

As the storm continued to the northeast, wind speeds maintained in the 90s, uprooting trees in Brookings, South Dakota, and knocking out power to some parts of the city for up to four days. In Castlewood, South Dakota, a destructive tornado ripped apart the local school, just days before the school year was set to end.

The storm continued pushing to the northeast, clipping eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. Six tornadoes spawned in the area with winds as high as 115 mph, including multiple near Alexandria, Minnesota, that tore roofs from homes and uprooted as many as 40 trees at a bible camp.

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This overhead shot of house ravaged by a tornado on Thursday, May 12, 2022, was taken with a drone by Andrew Lauer of Alexandria. The house sits on the corner of West Meadow Lane NW and Donna Drive in northwest Alexandria.
Andrew Lauer / Contributed photo

In the derecho’s entirety, it spawned a total of 34 tornadoes, and saw wind speeds as high as 135 mph near Gary, South Dakota.

In June, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem requested President Joe Biden issue a presidential disaster declaration, citing $6.7 million in damage to public property. Disaster declarations do not account for damage to private property. Biden approved Noem’s request on June 29.

Southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin hit with several rounds of damaging mid-May storms

As residents of southeastern Minnesota wrapped up lunch on May 19, the first of multiple rounds of severe storms for the day rolled into the area.

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This radar loops shows a massive storm system that pummeled eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin on May 19, 2022.
Image courtesy of the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wisconsin

The first round of storms, which rolled into the National Weather Service’s La Crosse, Wisconsin, coverage zone at approximately 12:24 p.m., produced heavy rainfall and hail as large as ping-pong balls.

With wind speeds reaching the low 60s, rainfall totals came in at a shocking 3.88 inches near Winona, Minnesota. 15 miles to the southeast, in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, over 3.5 inches of rainfall was recorded. Other reports, which are not included in the National Weather Service’s storm report, recorded over 5 inches of rain.

The quick and heavy rainfall led to roads washing out and a mudslide to occur, which eventually resulted in Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz approving emergency disaster assistance.

The Rochester Post Bulletin reported that the storms collapsed a cattle barn in Osage, Iowa — roughly 20 miles south of the Minnesota border — and damaged dozens of cars in a lot at a Rochester dealership.

Weather data shows frequency of billion-dollar disasters increasing in recent years

The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), a North Carolina-based subsidiary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is the nation’s leading authority for environmental data, which aims to collect valuable environmental data to inform strategy and decision-making in government, academia and the private sector.

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It is also responsible for compiling a list of major disasters across the United States that resulted in over $1 billion in damage.

According to NCEI data, the United States has experienced 332 billion-dollar disasters since 1980 — when the organization, which used to operate under a different name, began tracking the data. With an average of 7.7 such disasters each year, it’s resulted in $2.27 trillion in damage and over 15,000 deaths.

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This chart shows the frequency at which disasters that cause at least one billion dollars in damage occur in the United States as the year progresses.
Graphic courtesy of the National Centers for Environmental Information

From 2010 to 2019, the nation averaged 12.8 events each year. From 2019 to 2021, that number increased to 18.7 events per year. 2021 saw the second-most events in a single year in the history of data collection, with 20 events.

When analyzing annual data from 1980 through 2021, the country should see an average of 4.19 billion-dollar disasters through the month of June. For the first six months of the year, and at nine disasters thus far, the 2022 disaster count ranks fifth highest behind 2017, 2020, 2011 and 2021.

Though NOAA’s latest climate report, assessing June 2022, doesn’t link the increase in severe weather to any climate phenomena, the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the world’s leading environmental organizations, argues that global warming is a major factor in the frequency at which severe weather events occur.

Scientific studies widely acknowledge that Earth’s climate is warming. Its link to weather, however, remains contested.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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