From record-shattering heat to frigid waves of cold, torrential downpours to relentless drought, 2021 has been a year of extremes in the United States. As personal stories and images illuminate the devastation wrought by the events, the raw numbers also underline the widespread impacts and extraordinary nature of this year’s weather.
Below are key statistics of extreme weather in the United States in 2021.
18-plus billion-dollar weather events
The United States experienced 18 billion-dollar weather disasters in the first nine months of 2021, totaling more than $104 billion.
Driven largely by severe thunderstorms and a relentless hurricane season, this year has so far seen the second-most billion-dollar disasters of any year since 1980, and it could surpass 2020 for the record when events from October, November and December are tallied.
$20.8 billion: The cost of the historic February cold snap
One of the first major weather events of the year, a historic cold wave crippled the central United States in mid-February. The sky-high damage costs were almost double those associated with the 1993 East Coast blizzard, making 2021’s Southern Plains cold wave the costliest winter weather disaster in recorded U.S. history.
The winter storm severely affected Texas, where a partial failure of the electrical grid driven by the extreme cold left millions without power. Cities in other states also experienced several notable low temperatures, which sometimes lasted for a record number of days. More than 170 people died.
963,309 acres burned by the Dixie Fire
The Dixie Fire in Northern California became the largest single wildfire in California’s history. It is the second-largest fire in state history overall, burning an area larger than New York City, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles combined. Drought and poor forest management provided the fire with immense reserves of fuel that allowed for explosive, sustained growth.
The Dixie Fire is one of several devastating fires to hit California this year, including some that have killed the treasured sequoia trees. CalFire reported more than 2.5 million acres burned across the state this year.
150 mph winds from Hurricane Ida
With 150 mph sustained winds at landfall, Category 4 Ida tied for the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana based on wind speed. The hurricane was responsible for a destructive slug of wind, surge and rain that caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and killed dozens across parts of the central Gulf Coast.
116 degrees in Portland, Ore.
The Pacific Northwest heat wave in late June is perhaps the most memorable heat story of 2021. It will probably be examined for years to come. Portland, Ore., and Seattle both shattered previous high records by several degrees, reaching 116 degrees and 108 degrees, respectively.
Quillayute, Wash., hit 110 degrees and broke its previous record maximum temperature by 11 degrees — representing the largest margin by which a long-running U.S. weather station has ever broken its daily high-temperature record.
Quillayute, Washington, just broke their all-time high temperature record by 11°F. There are 5,401 stations in the U.S. and Canada with 50+ years of data. This is the largest differential between the highest and second highest temperature for any of those stations. https://t.co/uSX0nzJoMr— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) June 29, 2021
97 tornado reports in March
On March 17 and 25, the National Weather Service received almost 100 tornado reports. The two outbreaks, which raked the Southeast just over a week apart, were responsible for 15 fatalities and over a billion dollars of damage.
95 percent of the West in drought
This summer, the majority of the western United States experienced moderate to severe drought.
Following several near-record dry years amid a multidecade megadrought, the areal extent of drought impacting the West this summer exceeded any known since 2000 and probably represents the worst drought for the region in centuries.
74 degrees: Average summer temperature
The average temperature for the continental U.S. was 74 degrees this summer. Driven largely by record western warmth, summer 2021 (June 1 to Aug. 31) was the hottest in recorded U.S. history, tying the Dust Bowl summer of 1936.
Globally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared July 2021 the hottest month in 142 years of record keeping, with the mean about 1.66 degrees above the 1951-1980 July average.
54 record-setting wind gusts in December
On Dec. 15, a line of very gusty storms, known as a derecho, thrived in an environment substantially warmer than normal, and produced more extreme wind reports (marked by black squares below) than any other event known. A record number of 54 “significant” wind gusts (exceeding 75 mph) were reported across the Upper Midwest.
17.02 inches of rain near Waverly, Tenn.
In 24 hours, rain gauges measured more than 17 inches of rain on Aug. 21 in Waverly, Tenn., and surrounding regions. Radar estimates were as high as 21 inches or more. The reading, which preliminarily breaks the one-day precipitation record for the state, followed a deluge that brought devastating flooding to the town 60 miles west of Nashville.
9 states affected by the December tornado outbreak
The National Weather Service received tornado reports from nine states during the exceptionally long-lived and intense rotating thunderstorm on Dec. 10. The storm, or supercell, produced two long-track violent tornadoes that caused catastrophic damage and killed dozens in the deadliest December tornado outbreak in U.S. history.
6.25-inch hail in Texas
On April 28, a massive hailstone crashed to the ground in Hondo, Tex. The 6.25-inch hailstone (a low-end estimate) preliminarily broke the state’s record for size. The supercell that produced it was part of an outbreak that caused over $3.2 billion of damage.
5.44 inches of rain in Sacramento
On Oct. 25, an atmospheric river brought a surplus of rain to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. In downtown Sacramento, more than five inches of rain fell in 24 hours — setting the city’s all-time one-day record. The deluge came just six days after the conclusion of the city’s longest precipitation-free streak observed.
3.24 inches of rain in one hour
Hurricane Ida didn’t just affect the U.S. Gulf Coast. Thunderstorms flush with tropical moisture induced record-setting rainfall rates as Hurricane Ida’s remnants tracked from northeast Pennsylvania to southern Connecticut, and the resulting floods killed dozens.
On Sept. 1, Newark registered 3.24 inches from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., while Central Park received 3.15 inches an hour later — all-time records for their highest one-hour totals.
Kasha Patel contributed to this report.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Waverly, Tenn., is 60 miles east of Nashville. It is actually 60 miles west of Nashville. The article has been corrected.