By Michelle Werts

It’s fitting that in a week when climate change talks were heating up and concluding in Durban, NOAA (the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) announced that 2011 set a record for weather disasters in the U.S.

Strewn debris, pictured on June 14, 2011, from the EF-5 tornado that struck the Joplin, Missouri, area on May 22, 2011. Credit: U.S. Army photo/John Daves

2011 bore witness to 12 weather disasters that cost more than $1 billion in damage each for a total of $52 billion for the year thus far. Even worse than this economic toll was the loss of more than 1,000 lives due to weather catastrophes this year. These disasters ranged from the cold (January’s Midwest blizzard) to the hot (the Southern Plains and Southwest’s drought and heatwave and the Texas/New Mexico/Arizona wildfires) and from the windy (destructive tornadoes across tornado alley) to the wet (flooding along the Mississippi and a little storm known as Irene). To say that 2011 was a little rough is an understatement. And the scary thing is that this might not be as bad as it gets.

NOAA’s chief, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, says that this year’s weather disasters are not outliers, but rather “a harbinger of things to come.” Yikes!

And if you thought Mother Nature wasn’t happy before, how do you think she’ll react to even dirtier air and water?

A battle is going on in Congress over environmental riders that would regulate — or fail to regulate — our air and water, among other concerns, on the 2012 appropriations omnibus. For those not following the appropriations work closely, more than 50 riders — basically new rules and regulations — have been added to the fiscal omnibus — a single legislative document containing many laws and amendments — that pose to seriously cripple the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of the Interior’s regulations and operating budgets. In fact, according to The Hill,one of the most contentious funding items in the omnibus centers around the EPA. Some of the hotly contested issues include regulations and rules on cross-state air pollution, toxic emissions from power plants and mining operations’ water pollution.

The final text of the 2012 omnibus is scheduled to be released today so that the House and Senate can vote on it by the end of the week, which is when current government funding is expected to expire. The environmental community is waiting with baited breath to see which environmentally harmful riders have remained intact in the final text or if environmental funding has been cut completely from the package, which would necessitate a continuing resolution to keep certain programs operating.

Storms are on the horizon, both figuratively and literally, so we’re shoring up and battening down the hatches to settle in for the long haul because as NOAA’s report indicates, Mother Nature will not and should not be ignored.