US breaks record for disaster cost: $306 billion

The United States had 16 disasters in 2017, with damage costs far exceeding the $215 billion record set in 2005. The increase in weather disasters is likely a result of climate change along with urban development decisions.

David J. Phillip/AP/File
Residents are rescued in Houston during hurricane Harvey on Aug. 27, 2017. Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in US history hit in 2017, contributing to the record high cost of weather disasters last year.

With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes, and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306 billion.

The US had 16 disasters last year with damage exceeding a billion dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday. That ties 2011 for the number of billion-dollar disasters, but the total cost blew past the previous record of $215 billion in 2005.

Costs are adjusted for inflation and NOAA keeps track of billion-dollar weather disasters going back to 1980.

Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in US history hit last year.

Hurricane Harvey, which caused massive flooding in Texas, cost $125 billion, second only to 2005's Katrina, while Maria's damage in Puerto Rico cost $90 billion, ranking third, NOAA said. Irma was $50 billion, mainly in Florida, for the fifth most expensive hurricane.

Western wildfires fanned by heat racked up $18 billion in damage, triple the US wildfire record, according to NOAA.

Besides Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina all had more than $1 billion in damage from the 16 weather disasters in 2017.

"While we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, [many scientific studies] show that some of today's extremes have climate change fingerprints on them," said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society.

NOAA announced its figures at the society's annual conference in Austin, Texas.

The US averages six of the billion-dollar weather disasters each year, costing a bit more than $40 billion annually.

The increase in billion-dollar weather disasters is likely a combination of more flooding, heat, and storm surge from climate change along with other non-climate changes, such as where buildings are put, where people move, and how valuable their property is, said Deke Arndt, NOAA's climate monitoring chief.

"Perhaps it is time to mandate urban development in a more resilient and sustainable manner given the increasing frequency of weather extremes, especially along the nation's coasts," Susan Cutter, director of the University of South Carolina's Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, said in an email.

The weather agency also said that 2017 was the third hottest year in US records for the Lower 48 states with an annual temperature of 54.6 degrees F. – 2.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average. Only 2012 and 2016 were warmer. The five warmest years for the Lower 48 states have all happened since 2006.

Mr. Arndt said the US – which has had above normal annual temperatures for 21 straight years – is showing the same warming effects as the rest of the world. The burning of coal, oil, and gas emits heat-trapping gases that change Earth's climate.

This was the third straight year that all 50 states had above average temperatures for the year.

Five states – Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and New Mexico – had their warmest year ever.

Temperature records go back to 1895.

This was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to US breaks record for disaster cost: $306 billion
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2018/0109/US-breaks-record-for-disaster-cost-306-billion
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe