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Stubborn US drought could be costlier than hurricane Sandy

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Even in a year that saw hurricane Sandy, the drought could be the headline severe-weather event of 2012.

Initial estimates range from $60 billion to $100 billion, with a first official estimate from the US Department of Agriculture expected in February, says Steven Cain, a specialist with Purdue University's Agriculture Communications Service in West Lafayette, Ind.

By some estimates, Sandy inflicted at least $75 billion in damage.

So far, hurricane Katrina in 2005 tops the costly-weather-event list at about $108 billion. Still, Mr. Cain says, the country faces the prospect of dealing with what are likely to be two of the three most expensive weather-related disasters on record – in the same year.

"That's going to be an amazing recovery situation," Cain says.

In 2010 and 2011, the southern tier bore the brunt of drought conditions, thanks to back-to-back winters where La Niña held sway in the tropical Pacific. Over North America, a La Niña pattern tends to shove average storm tracks farther north than usual. Coming out of the winter of 2011-12, much of the US heartland saw virtually no snow cover – 14 percent of the continental US was covered in snow, compared with 56 percent in January 2010.

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