- 23 record weather events, each causing losses of at least $1 billion in 2023 and causing 253 deaths, are listed with four months remaining.
- Hurricane Idalia and the Maui wildfires tipped the scales to surpass the previous annual record of 22 events with a 10-figure price tag in 2022.
- The frequency and costs of weather events are rising due to climate change, increased built-up areas in vulnerable locations, and rising material wealth.
Hundreds of Americans have died from climate disasters in 2023, which has already broken records for the highest number of billion-dollar disasters to occur in a single year.
The National Center for Environmental Information has released startling numbers on the human and financial cost of recent weather events after Hurricane Idalia and the horrific Maui wildfires tipped the scales this year.
With four months to go, the United States has been hit by 23 disasters that resulted in a loss of at least $1 billion each — surpassing the previous annual record of 22 events with a 10-figure cost in 2022.
Some 253 people have died in weather disasters this year, which have caused financial losses amounting to $57.6 billion – and this expense does not yet include Hurricane Idalia.
Adam Smith, an applied climate scientist and economist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who tracks billion-dollar disasters, compared them to “the fingerprints of climate change all over our country.”
“I don’t expect things to slow down anytime soon,” he added.
Several other events may have surpassed the $1 billion mark this year, including drought in the South and Midwest, and Tropical Storm Hillary that battered Southern California this summer.
Besides the wildfires in Idalia and Hawaii, the 23 devastating events include 18 severe storms across several states — including tornadoes, high winds and hailstorms — two major floods and one winter snowstorm.
They range from the winter storm that hit the Northeast from February 2 to 5 — when a record wind chill of -104 F was felt at Mount Washington in New Hampshire, to the brutal cold that struck Minnesota on August 11.
Other storms reached “severe” status – that is, when they pose a threat to life – in states including Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
The frequency and cost of disasters are increasing over time due to climate change, a rise in the number of areas being built on risk-prone sites, and rising material wealth among residents, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Exposure plus vulnerability plus climate change is driving more of these disasters into multibillion-dollar disasters,” Smith said.
The price tag for each disaster covers the direct costs of physical damage to buildings, vehicles, property, infrastructure and agricultural assets including crops and livestock.
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.
Since records began, the United States has suffered 360 separate weather and climate-related disasters, with total damages exceeding $1 billion, based on adjusting the Consumer Price Index through 2023.
The total cost of these 360 events exceeds $2,570 trillion.
Although $1 billion represents an arbitrary threshold, events exceeding that staggering number account for more than 80% of the damage from all weather and climate events in the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
Weather disasters with costs in the ten figures or more increasingly account for a larger percentage of the cumulative damage from all climate-related events.
Since 1980, the annual average number of disasters costing more than $1 billion has been 8.1 – while in the last five years the annual average has been 18.
Although annual figures for financial losses from all climate incidents fluctuate, they are generally on the rise.
The total combined cleanup cost of climate disasters in 2022 was $177.6 billion, up from $159.4 billion in 2021 and $117.3 billion in 2020.
Hurricane Harvey made 2017 a record year, after it struck Houston, Texas – one of the largest US cities – in August of that year.
Damages from Harvey alone contributed more than $125 billion to 2017’s record high of $383.7 billion.
A record 3,280 people died from climate events in America that year.
The year 2005 was the second most expensive year, with costs reaching $260.3 billion, after four devastating hurricanes that struck North America – Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
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