Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters of 2012

Firefighters in Breezy Point, N.Y., in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Severe drought, wildfires and Hurricane Sandy top the government's list of the costliest weather-related disasters of the year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

A phalanx of destructive tornadoes, hurricanes and other severe weather helped contribute to a total of 11 disasters costing one billion dollars or more in 2012, NOAA said.

Leading the list is 2012's persistent drought, the worst since the 1930s. Scientists said today that drought is currently affecting 60 percent of the country.

"Its impacts are most costly across the central agriculture states resulting in widespread crop failures and impacts to water-intensive industries including shipping along the Mississippi River, which is still a challenge," said Adam Smith, a climatologist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

There won't be much relief for at least the next few months, NOAA said.

"We do expect the drought and dry conditions will continue into the spring," said Dave Unger, a meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. He said parts of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado will be hit the worst.

The summer heatwaves that went hand-in-hand with severe drought also caused 123 deaths, according to NOAA.

Wildfires burned more than 9.1 million acres this year, the second-highest total since 2000. Eight people were killed. Colorado suffered the most expensive wildfires, with several hundred homes destroyed.

Hurricane Sandy caused 131 deaths when it slammed the east coast in October, causing damage estimated in the range of $35 to $45 billion. Sandy caused the New York Stock Exchange to shut down for two consecutive business days, something that hadn't happened due to a storm since the great blizzard of 1888.

The full list of 2012 billion-dollar weather disasters can be found here.

NOAA scientists said that while each of the 11 severe weather events cost one billion dollars or more, final dollar amounts won't be calculated until mid-2013.

Weather disasters cost the U.S. $60.6 billion in 2011, a number that 2012 is expected to surpass even though there were fewer-but more expensive- events.

2005-the year several hurricanes, including Katrina devastated the gulf coast- holds the record as the costliest year for weather disasters, at $187.2 billion, according to NOAA.

Climate scientists say they are studying how much of an impact global warming is having on extreme weather events.

"We do know the climate is changing," said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. "But many of these events are local events and it's hard to parse out specifically how much of a role climate change is having versus how much of that role is local and regional factors."