Unforgettable photos encapsulate weather nightmares turned to reality over the past decade

Kevin Byrne

It was an active and costly decade when it came to extreme weather.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lists 115 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters from the past 10 years in the United States.

Ferocious storm systems upended lives across the country and made towns such as Joplin, Missouri; Moore, Oklahoma; Mexico Beach, Florida; Montecito, California; and Seaside Heights, New Jersey; the center of unwanted global recognition.

As these weather events took place, terms such as bomb cyclones, polar vortex and snowmageddon dominated the headlines.

Here's a look back at some of the most prominent weather moments from the past 10 years across the U.S.

Irma satellite hurricane recap
This image of Category 4 Hurricane Irma was taken on Sunday, Sept.10, 2017, at 9:25 a.m. EDT by the NOAA GOES East satellite as its eye approached the southwestern coast of Florida. Hurricane Jose is seen (right) near the Leeward Islands. (Photo/NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

The 2010s were filled with record-setting and historic hurricanes that won't soon be forgotten. Impacts from many of these tropical cyclones are still being felt today, whether it's the damage Sandy left behind in New York and New Jersey in 2012 or Florence's flooding rain in the Carolinas in 2018.

While some seasons were quieter in terms of tropical cyclone activity than others, perhaps no season was more impactful than 2017. The 2017 hurricane season generated 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes. Three of those major hurricanes occurred within a one-month span.

The season's accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, which measures the intensity of a season, was 226, more than double the average annual value of 104.

On Aug. 25, Harvey barreled into the barrier islands of southeastern Texas, while Irma rampaged into the Florida Keys on Sept. 10. Only a few weeks later, Maria pummeled Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. All were Category 4 storms at the time of their respective landfalls.

Along with Sandy, those three systems are four of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. Only Katrina in 2005 has a higher damage cost than these four storms, according to NOAA.

Harvey also ended a long-standing drought, becoming the first major hurricane to strike the U.S. since Wilma in October 2005, a streak that lasted over 4,300 days.

Severe weather can strike in many forms, but tornadoes are among the most intense. According to data compiled by the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, there were over 10,000 tornado reports from 2010-2019.

Here are several of the largest and most devastating tornadic events over the past decade.

2011 Super Outbreak

Over the course of four days in April 2011, the southern U.S. found itself under assault by a massive tornado outbreak.

Tornadoes were reported from the Texas Panhandle to central New York. The heaviest concentration occurred in the Deep South across areas, some heavily populated, in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Over 200 twisters touched down on April 27 alone, and there were as many as 350 overall.


(National Weather Service Springfield, Missouri)

On May 22, 2011, the deadliest tornado in U.S. history ripped through southwestern Missouri under the cover of darkness and disguised by heavy rainfall, leaving devastation behind in the town of Joplin.

The EF5 twister ransacked the region with winds over 200 mph. In the aftermath, 161 people were killed and over 1,000 were injured.

With financial losses around $3 billion, it is also the costliest tornado on record.


For the community of Moore, Oklahoma, catastrophic strikes from tornadoes are an all-too-familiar occurrence. In 1999, part of the community was leveled by an F5 tornado that emerged as part of a major outbreak.

Fourteen years later, another extraordinarily powerful twister took aim at the city located about 10 miles south of Oklahoma City.

The May 20, 2013, event was the most devastating tornadic event of the year for Oklahoma and the United States. Twenty-four lives were lost, and dozens were injured.

Among the heartbreaking scenes of damage was the destruction of Briarwood Elementary School and Plaza Towers Elementary School. Seven children tragically lost their lives at the Plaza Towers school.

El Reno

Not long after Moore, another major twister rattled Oklahoma. This time a slightly weaker, but much wider, tornado took aim at the town of El Reno on May 31, 2013.

Eight people died as a result of the tornado, which was "exceptionally wide" with a maximum path width of 2.6 miles. The tornado's massive width is the largest for any tornado on record.

Among the victims were renowned storm chaser Tim Samaras and his son, Paul.

The twister was rated an EF3, but winds of EF5 or greater were measured on Doppler radar. Due to the lack of damage found in storm surveys across mostly farmland, "surveyors could not find any damage that would support a rating higher than EF3 based solely on the damage indicators used with the EF scale," according to the NWS.

Historic flooding was a common occurrence this decade. According to NOAA, there were at least 18 flooding disasters of a billion dollars or more that impacted areas from California to New England.

Some of the most significant flooding events include the 2015 record-setting flooding in the Carolinas and the August 2016 event when 20-30 inches of rain ruined properties across southern Louisiana.

Following the Thomas Fire, the second-largest wildfire in California history which scorched over 281,000 acres in December 2017, a massive burn scar area was left in its wake. This left conditions ripe for catastrophic flooding and mudslides in the town of Montecito on Jan. 9, 2018.

At least 21 people died in the onslaught of mud and water that knocked homes off their foundations and caked major thoroughfares, including Highway 101.

Buffalo is used to an abundance of snow, but even by its own lofty standards, one event brought preposterous snowfall amounts.

From Nov. 17-19, 2014, the lake-effect snow machine shifted into high gear for western New York, with snowfall rates of around 6 inches per hour being reported at one point.

For many areas, the proper unit of measurement may have been yards rather than feet.

A whopping 65 inches was measured just south of the town of Cheektowaga, about 10 miles east of Buffalo.


The first winter season of the decade produced one of the biggest winter storms on record for the Northeast.

The beastly snowstorm was referred to by many, including President Barack Obama, as "Snowmaggedon" for its severe impacts and overall size and scope.

The February 2010 storm, which occurred on Feb. 5-6 and was followed by a major blizzard just days later, left snowfall amounts of 20-30 inches around the nation's capital, and caused the federal government to close for nearly a week.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, after nearly four years of drought, the docks at the Folsom Lake Marina, sit on the dry lake bed near Folsom, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

As parts of the country often dealt with too much water, in California, there often wasn't enough.

For much of the decade, the Golden State seemed to be in a constant battle to preserve water, as it endured a drought that eventually reached historic proportions.

The water years of 2012-2014 ranked as the driest consecutive three-year period on record. Eventually, former California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency that would remain in effect from January 2014 until April 2017.

The ongoing drought was particularly problematic as wildfires grew larger and more destructive as the decade progressed.

Seven of the top 20 largest wildfires in the state's recorded history occurred this decade, including the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest in state history at 459,123 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Of those, one was the worst in the state's history. The Camp Fire, which incinerated the town of Paradise in Butte County during November 2018, is the state's deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record with 86 deaths and more than 18,000 destroyed structures blamed on the fire.