Even though the year isn’t over yet, 2012 will go down in the history books as having some powerful and even record breaking natural disasters. Thus far, the year has seen super storms like Hurricane Sandy, epic droughts, month-long wildfires and unprecedented weather like the June 2012 Derecho. Let’s hope the rest of the year ends uneventfully, as we take a sobering look back at the worst natural disasters of 2012.
**North American Derecho **
The June 2012 Derecho was one of the most damaging thunderstorm complexes in recent history. This surprise storm produced wind speeds over 90 mph and hail stones up to 2.75 inches in diameter. From the afternoon of June 29 into the early morning of June 30, the Derecho traveled from Indiana, across the Midwest, and into the Mid-Atlantic states. The storm caused 22 deaths and widespread damage across its 800-mile track. Downed trees and flooded roads cut off aid to many parts of hard-hit West Virginia. The Derecho also left millions without power during the June-July heat wave.
North American Drought
A historic lack of snow last winter, combined with several years of below-normal rainfall, produced a devastating drought through much of North America this summer. This drought has reminded many of similar large-area droughts in the 1930s and 1950s. Although this drought has been in place for a shorter time, it has surpassed the most recent comparable North American drought in 1988/1989. Due to crop failure and livestock deaths, this prolonged, multi-year disaster could end up being the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
African Sahel Regional Drought
In May, eight countries in West Africa suffered from a devastating lack of rainfall. This absence of rain came at a critical time in the growing season there. Failed crops and an insect plague have created painfully high food prices, leaving more than 18 million people to face hunger across western Africa. To put numbers on this situation, Chad and Mauritania have recorded a loss in crop yield of over 50% when compared to last year’s yield records. Photo: Oxafam International
Middle East Earthquakes
Iran and Afghanistan were struck with two of the most deadly earthquakes of 2012. On August 11, 306 people died from the 6.4 magnitude quake that struck East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. This earthquake was in the rural and mountainous areas to the northeast of Tabriz, and was felt as far away as Armenia. Iran’s major seismic fault lines make the country prone to much worse earthquakes than this one. A 2003 quake killed approximately 26,000, while a 1990 earthquake may have killed as many as 50,000 in Iran. The third-worst earthquake of the year happened in a neighboring part of the Middle East, on June 11. The Baghlan province of Afghanistan sustained a pair of 5.4 and 5.7 magnitude earthquakes, which killed 75 people in that region.
Asian Earthquakes
The second-worst earthquake of 2012 happened on February 6, off the coast of Negros Oriental, Philippines. The 6.7 magnitude quake killed 113 people and injured 100, also cutting off water, electricity, transportation, and communications. The fourth-worst quake of the year occurred in the southwest Chinese province of Yunnan on September 7. The two main shocks of 5.6 and 5.3 magnitude left 81 people dead and 821 injured. Photo: Wildflower Judy
**North American Flooding **
The U.S. suffered several storm-related flooding events in 2012, most recently the one associated with Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. But let’s not forget about the southeastern U.S. flooding in July. Timely flood warnings had the residents prepared in New Orleans. Although no deaths were reported, many people had to be rescued from flooded cars or other treacherous situations. Power outages were widespread and many homes and businesses were damaged in the still beleaguered Big Easy. The state of Georgia was also impacted by July’s huge storms and flooding. Streets in Atlanta flooded during rush hour, causing massive traffic jams. Several drivers reported that they felt they could drive through the high water, only to find that their cars stalled and left them trapped in chest-deep water.
Global Flooding
In July at least 37 people were killed by flood waters in and around the city of Beijing, China. In the rural and suburban areas outside Beijing, many more people died in as a result of flooding, which was said to be the region’s worst in 60 years. Floods occurred in southwest Russia in early July, mainly in Krasnodar Krai, near the coast of the Black Sea. Five months‚Äo worth of rain fell overnight in some southern parts of the country, leaving 144 people dead and damaging the homes of nearly 13,000 people. Other massive flooding events occurred in Asia’s Brahmaputra River, Great Britain, Ireland, Loreto, Nigeria, North Korea, the Philippines, Romania, Fiji, Nepal, and Pakistan.
North American Heat Wave
The summer heat wave in North America led to more than 82 heat-related deaths across the United States and Canada. The intense three-week-long spell began around June 20, when a high pressure system centered over Baja California moved into the plains, creating temperatures near or exceeding 110 degrees. The heat spread east from the Rocky Mountains, causing high temperatures in the central states rivaling records from 80 years ago. On June 25, Denver tied its all-time high with a temperature of 105 degrees. Hill City, Kansas, was the warmest spot in the United States on June 26, reaching 115 degrees. All of this heat was probably the engine for the June Derecho, which formed in the Midwest and tore through the Mid-Atlantic. The heat wave even reached New England, as Hartford, Connecticut, hit 100 degrees on July 18.
**Western Wildfires **
Starting in early August, a series of Oklahoma wildfires burned some 52,000 acres, destroying at least 121 homes and businesses. A fire near Luther, Oklahoma, destroyed about 50 homes and buildings before it was contained on August 4. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency due to the drought and the wildfires. Thankfully, no fatalities were reported from this disaster. A month later, wildfires broke out from lightning strikes on the dry eastern side of Cascade Range, primarily in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. These fires burned at least 157,000 acres during September and October in Washington State. Photo: OregonDOT
**Colorado Wildfires **
From early June through July, at least 200,000 acres of Colorado were swept by wildfire. The record drought and heat wave created the ideal conditions for wildfires, which were sparked by both lightning and human activities. More than 600 homes were destroyed and 5 lives were lost during this month of fires.
Foreign Tornados
The world’s high-risk tornado corridors are in the United States, Bangladesh, and Eastern India, but tornadoes can pop up almost anywhere, if the conditions are right. Other sites where tornadoes also appear include southern Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. In 2012, confirmed fatalities worldwide occurred in Poland, Japan, Indonesia, and Turkey. On February 24, a strong tornado struck South Sulawesi province in Indonesia, killing five people and damaging 98 structures. On April 9, a tornado struck a construction site in Elazƒ±ƒu Province, Turkey, killing at least six people and injuring seven others. Several homes were destroyed along the tornado’s seven-mile-long track. On July 14, a group of tornadoes hit the northern region of Pomerania in Poland, killing a 60-year old man in Wycinki and injuring at least 10 other people. Photo: Ciaran Walsh
U.S. Tornados
There have been 1,039 tornadoes reported in the U.S. in 2012, of which at least 855 have been confirmed. Of the 81 fatalities from tornadoes worldwide in 2012, 68 of those were in the United States. January, March, April, June, and August were all very active tornado months in the U.S. The worst of these tornadoes outbreaks occurred April 13’Äi16 and March 3 (during which 94 tornados were sighted in one day). Photo: Niccolo Ubalducci Photographer
Afghanistan Avalanches
On March 4, several avalanches hit the Badakhshan province of northeastern Afghanistan. The largest of the avalanches destroyed a small village of about 200 people. The village was home to 24 families. Most buildings and homes were completely buried in the avalanche. Seven people were found alive in the village, but three later died from their injuries and a lack of medical care. Three days later, 50 people had been confirmed dead. Photo: isafmedia
Siachen Glacier Avalanche
The deadliest avalanche of the year occurred on April 7, at a Pakistani military base near the Siachen Glacier. It was the most severe avalanche the Pakistani military had experienced in the area, trapping both soldiers and civilian contractors under deep snow. Rescue crews from the Pakistani military were dispatched immediately, and over the next few days the operation expanded with foreign assistance. By April 10, the rescue crew had increased to 452 people, 69 of them civilians, with nine pieces of heavy machinery moving snow at the avalanche site. After a month-and-a-half-long recovery mission, Pakistan declared that the 129 soldiers and 11 civilians had been killed by the avalanche.
Pacific Typhoon Season
The 2012 Pacific Typhoon season is almost over, having delivered 34 different weather systems from early summer through late fall. The total damage of those 34 systems has been estimated at $4.42 billion for 2012. 506 lives were lost in the Pacific storms due to flooding and buildings collapsing in high winds. From the Philippines to Japan and Russia, some of this year’s storms generated winds in excess of 125 mph and produced widespread flooding. Photo: Zoom Morales
**Cyclone Nilam **
Cyclone Nilam was the deadliest tropical cyclone to directly hit Sri Lanka and southern India in years. The storm originated from an area of low pressure over the Bay of Bengal on October 28, and intensified into a cyclone by October 30. It made landfall near Mahabalipuram on October 31 as a strong storm with wind speeds of 50 mph. In Chennai’s Marina Beach, strong winds pushed piles of sand ashore and seawater reached nearly 100 yards inland. Schools and colleges in the city remained closed for more than three days. In total, 75 deaths and $56.7 million in damages were caused by the cyclone. Photo: VinothChandar
**Atlantic Hurricane Season **
The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season has, thus far, seen a total of 19 tropical storms, 10 hurricanes and 1 major hurricane. The season officially began on June 1 and concluded at the end of November. Hurricanes Ernesto, Isaac, and Sandy were responsible for most of the damage and loss of life during this storm season. So far, all of the storms combined have caused more than $68 million in damage and 320 lives were lost due to this year’s storms.
**Hurricane Ernesto **
Hurricane Ernesto was a category 1 hurricane that formed on August 1 and continued until August 10. Ernesto’s wind speed topped out at 85 mph. This hurricane caused major damage as it passed over the Windward Islands, Jamaica, Central America, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It caused $252.2 million in damage, and 12 people died from storm-triggered flooding and one lightning strike. Photo: littlegreenfroggy
**Hurricane Isaac **
Late August’s Hurricane Isaac struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Cuba, The Bahamas, the southeastern United States (particularly Louisiana) and the midwestern U.S. This category 1 hurricane formed on August 21 and finally degenerated into a low-pressure system on September 1, 2012. This large, slow moving storm produced massive flooding and a large storm surge. In the US, 5 fatalities have been confirmed in Louisiana and 2 each in Mississippi and Florida. Hurricane Isaac killed a total of 43 people throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean, and although damages are still being tallied, they have reached almost $2 billion.
**Hurricane Sandy **
By far the most lethal and destructive storm of 2012 was Hurricane Sandy. This category 2 hurricane formed October 22, and battered the eastern seaboard until October 29. Damage was sustained from Jamaica through New England, southern Ontario and Quebec. Recovery work continues as nearly $65 billion in damage is restored. Some 253 people lost their lives because of this storm, with the heaviest casualties coming occurring the United States. On November 5, the National Hurricane Center ranked Sandy as the second costliest U.S. hurricane since 1900.

It has been the year of the natural disaster. From superstorms, to droughts, to wildfires, every corner of the globe seems to have been hit. Here’s a look at the 20 worst natural disasters of 2012.