Natural Disasters Cost America A Record-Breaking $306 Billion In Damages In 2017

Hurricane Irma, pictured here on September 8 of last year. NOAA/GOES-16/NASA

Robin Andrews 09 Jan 2018, 17:17

How we perceive the world is often dictated by how much, and what type, of media we consume. Sometimes it can feel like the world has never been more dangerous, whereas in reality, it’s less violent and safer than it ever has been. The same applies to things like extreme weather events and natural disasters – but in this case, the trend is precisely the opposite.

According to a news release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), last year, there were 16 weather and climate disasters that generated financial losses in excess of $1 billion. The average between 1980 and 2017 was 5.8 events, but this has crept up to 11.6 events in the last five years.

This ties with 2011 in terms of the record number of billion-dollar natural disasters, and – NOAA argues – perhaps even exceeds it, depending on how a natural disaster is counted.

Forget the frequency, though: the magnitude of these droughts, floods, deep freezes, storms, tropical cyclones, and wildfires is where the attention should be focused. Lest we forget the speed in which hurricanes like Maria and Irma intensified, and the record-breaking rainfall Harvey dumped on Texas – the latter of which is almost certainly linked to a certain anthropogenic phenomenon.

NOAA explains that the cumulative costs of all natural disasters in 2017 – including these three hurricanes – was $306.2 billion. Around 87 percent of these damages came from the terrible trilogy of hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey.

This shatters the previous record holder, 2005, where the quartet of Hurricanes Wilma, Rita, Katrina, and Dennis pushed damages to a total of $214.8 billion.

A grim map of 2017's disasters. NOAA/NCEI

NOAA has tabulated the costs for each individual phenomenon, and it’s clear that the hurricanes were the true antagonists of last year. The California wildfires, for example, cost $18 billion. In contrast, Hurricane Harvey cost $125 billion – the clear “winner” of 2017’s disasters.

Rather remarkably, the wildfires themselves were the worst in history. “The combined destruction of the Tubbs, Atlas, Nuns, and Redwood Valley wildfires represent the most costly wildfire event on record,” according to the analysis by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

As a bonus, 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the US, after 2012 and 2016.

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