Climate disasters in the US caused $165 billion in damage by 2022

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A massive hurricane, a historic drought and 16 other major U.S. disasters combined to cause $165 billion in damage and kill at least 474 people in 2022, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information tracks the largest of the major disasters, each costing at least $1 billion in damage. 2022 was the country’s third most expensive year for disasters at $1 billion, according to the NOAA ranking, after 2017 ($373.2 billion) and 2005 ($253.5 billion).

Billion dollar disasters are the new normal in the US and around the world. That’s because people continue to move and build in high-risk areas — and the risk itself increases as the planet gets warmer, wetter and more prone to extremes. Severe weather and other disasters cost the world about $120 billion in insured losses and $270 billion in uninsured losses last year, according to estimates from insurance giant Munich Re. And all these disasters occurred during the fifth warmest year on record, estimates the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

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In the US, Hurricane Ian was the most damaging event, causing $112.9 billion in damage. The storm was also the most expensive disaster for insured damage worldwide, according to Munich Re. Ian quickly developed into a Category 4 hurricane that slammed into southwest Florida with a deadly combination of storm surge, wind and rain. The result was a climate catastrophe: roads and bridges washed away, entire neighborhoods razed to the ground and millions of people lost power. The loss of life was also staggering. At least 152 people died from the storm, according to the NOAA count.

Another major event was the years of drought and heat wave in several western and southern plains states that caused $22.2 billion in damage. A study published in the journal Nature climate change estimated that this prolonged period of drought, which began before 2022, was the region’s worst in more than 1,000 years. As a result, major rivers and lakes have dwindled to dangerously low levels and in some cases dried up, including Lakes Mead and Powell and the Colorado River. Millions of people depend on this water.

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The extreme heat associated with this dry spell killed more than 100 people in Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Texas. But the federal government’s estimates are likely an underestimate. In Arizona’s Maricopa County alone, local officials identified 378 confirmed heat-related deaths in 2022.

The collection of major disasters also includes western wildfires; hurricanes Nicole and Fiona; flooding in eastern Kentucky and Missouri; two southern tornado outbreaks; two North Central hail storms; and a winter storm. The 2022 price tag isn’t even complete because it doesn’t include the cost of that massive winter storm and cold snap in December. That event was “so impressive we’re still calculating the cost for it,” said NCEI expert Adam Smith, “and hopefully we’ll have an update later this month.”

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NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad pointed out the role of climate change in disasters at a news conference Tuesday. “Climate change is causing more and more intense, significant damage and often causing sequential hazards, such as intense drought followed by devastating wildfires, followed by dangerous flooding and mudslides,” he said, “as we see, for example, as a result of California’s atmospheric rivers right now. .”

Photo: A makeshift bridge over a kayak after Hurricane Ian in Florida on Oct. 1, 2022. Photographer: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg

Copyright 2023 Bloomberg.

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