Damages from US weather and climate disasters reached a new record in 2020
January 9, 2021
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The US experienced a record number of billion-dollar disasters in 2020. Twenty-two disasters cost the US a cumulative $95 billion last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That smashes previous records set in 2011 and 2017, when 16 disasters caused at least a billion dollars of damage.

NOAA’s announcement is the latest signal that climate change is hitting the US hard in the pocketbook. It follows the release of another report by insurance company Munich Re that also tallied 2020 disaster costs and found they had nearly doubled in the US since 2019.

“Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, Munich Re chief climate scientist, told The New York Times.

Heatwaves and droughts on their own caused $4.5 billion in damages, according to NOAA. The hot, dry conditions also fueled unprecedented wildfires that tore through the west. Flames ate up more than 10 million acres across the country, the most since 2000. Colorado saw three of its largest wildfires ever last year, while California doubled its previous record for most acres burned. All in all, wildfire damages topped $16 billion in 2020.

The extremely active Atlantic hurricane season was also costly. By the end of an exhausting season, there were more tropical cyclones on NOAA’s billion-dollar disaster list this year than ever before. Those seven storms combined came with a price tag of $40.1 billion.

“It’s just been crazy,” Allison Wing an assistant professor of meteorology at Florida State University, told The Verge near the end of hurricane season in November.

Ten more severe weather events made NOAA’s list, including hail storms in Texas and the derecho in the Midwest that damaged millions of acres of crops. In just 14 hours on August 10th, the wind storm caused more than $11 billion in damages. Tornado outbreaks also tore through the Southeast, taking out homes and buildings.

2020 was a doozy for a lot of reasons, but weather and climate-related disasters are part of a larger pattern of havoc wreaked by global warming. This marked the sixth year in a row that the US had experienced more than 10 billion-dollar disasters in a calendar year.

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