NORMAN — The amount of natural disasters and extreme weather events in 2011 has been quite trying for Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S.
This year, there have been 12 separate national weather events that caused $52 billion in economic losses, according to the National Weather Service.
Data also shows that 552 people have been killed in tornadoes so far this year.
“It was certainly a historic tornado year,” said Russell Schneider, director of NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.
In order to prepare for future disasters, officials from across the country are gathering in Norman this week at the National Weather Center for the first Weather-Ready Nation workshop. During the sessions, participants will look at 2011 disasters and discuss ideas on how to improve the public's awareness and preparedness.
The conference continues through Thursday.
“We're trying to begin a national conversation on creating a more weather-ready nation,” Schneider said. “By that, we mean not just improving our tornado warnings, watches or forecast, but translating that information into more effective community action to save people's lives and to help us recover more quickly from disasters that may be in our future.”
In Oklahoma alone this year, residents have dealt with excessive heat, deadly tornadoes and a 5.6-magnitude earthquake — the largest quake ever recorded in the state.
Gov. Mary Fallin attended the workshop Tuesday morning to discuss another Oklahoma weather incident she had to deal with before her inauguration — a winter storm. She said she underwent training for severe weather situations and was able to work with officials to help residents who were stranded on highways.
A few months after that, Fallin was faced with finding assistance for residents after the May 24 tornadoes swept through the state, killing 11 people. The state then faced a severe drought and an excessive heat wave that extended to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“Now I'm just waiting on the locusts. Hopefully, they don't come or we'll have to find a new place to live,” Fallin said.
Other weather events, such as flooding, tornadoes and Hurricane Irene have also affected other parts of the country. Schneider said the U.S., overall, saw major property loss throughout the year because of the weather events.
On average, tornadoes kill 80 people a year, Schneider said. This year the numbers increased significantly, and the nation had the most tornado fatalities since 1936, he said.
The only year to exceed the 2011 and 1936 fatality total was in 1925, when the tri-state tornado swept through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, killing 695 people in its path.
Schneider said officials plan to have follow-up meetings to discuss similar topics from the workshop and are working on research projects that might allow meteorologists to predict tornado activity further in advance.
“There's no way to predict what the coming year will bring,” Schneider said. “We wouldn't predict a similar year this year, but we can't rule that out at this point.”