The United States sets a record number of billion-dollar weather disasters this year

Deadly fires in Hawaii and storm surge caused by Hurricane Idalia helped push the United States to a record number of climate disasters costing $1 billion or more — with four months left in what feels like a disaster calendar.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that from January to August, there were 23 extreme weather events in the United States that cost at least $1 billion, surpassing the all-year record of 22 events set in 2020. So far, the This year’s disasters are at their peak. It cost more than $57.6 billion and claimed at least 253 lives.

Adam Smith, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expert who tracks multi-billion-dollar disasters, said NOAA’s tally does not yet include damage caused by Tropical Storm Hillary in California and the deep drought that has struck the South and Midwest – and that Costs have not yet been collected.

“We are seeing the fingerprints of climate change all over our country,” Smith said in an interview Monday. “I don’t expect things to slow down anytime soon.”

Homes and businesses in historic Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, were destroyed in devastating wildfires last month.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been tracking billion-dollar weather disasters in the United States since 1980 and adjusts damage costs for inflation. Smith said what is happening reflects an increase in the number of disasters and more areas are being built in locations exposed to risks.

“Exposure plus vulnerability plus climate change is driving more of these disasters into multibillion-dollar disasters,” Smith said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has added eight new billion-dollar disasters to the list since it was last updated a month ago. In addition to the Idalia and Hawaii fires that killed at least 115 people, the agency recently listed a hailstorm in Minnesota on August 11; severe storms in the northeast in early August; severe storms in Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin in late July; In mid-July, hail and severe storms struck Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia; deadly floods in the Northeast and Pennsylvania in the second week of July; and an outbreak of severe storms in late June in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

“This year there’s been a lot of action in the central states and the north-central states, the south-central states and the southeast states,” Smith said.

Experts say the United States must do more to adapt to increasing disasters because they will only get worse.

“The climate has already changed, and neither the built environment nor response systems can keep up with the change,” said Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was not part of the NOAA report.

A man wades through floodwater in front of his house

Daniel Dickert wades through floodwaters in front of his home in Steinhatchee, Florida, on August 30 after Hurricane Idalia passed.

(Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times)

The increase in climate disasters is consistent with what climate scientists have long been saying, along with a possible boost from the current El Niño pattern, said Katherine Jacobs, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona.

“Adding more energy to the atmosphere and oceans will increase the intensity and frequency of extreme events,” said Jacobs, who was also not part of the NOAA report. “Many of this year’s events are highly unusual and in some cases unprecedented.”

Smith said he thought the 2020 record would last for a long time because the $22 billion disasters that year broke the old record of 16. But that didn’t happen, and now he no longer believes the new records will last long.

Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field described the trend toward multibillion-dollar disasters as “deeply alarming.”

“But there are things we can do to reverse this trend,” Field said. “If we want to limit the damage caused by extreme weather, we need to accelerate progress in halting climate change and building resilience.”

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