$306bn in one year: US bill for natural disasters smashes record.
Major hurricanes, wildfires, drought and tornadoes have led to highest ever damage costs, as expert says extremes have ‘climate change fingerprints on them’
With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306bn, according to a new government report released on Monday.
The US had 16 disasters last year with damage exceeding a billion dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said. That ties 2011 for the number of billion-dollar disasters, but the total cost blew past the previous record of $215bn 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 cost $125bn, second only to 2005’s Katrina, while Maria cost $90bn, ranking third, Noaa said. Irma was $50bn, for the fifth most expensive hurricane. Western wildfires fanned by heat racked up $18bn in damage, triple the previous US wildfire record, according to Noaa.
“While we have to be careful about kneejerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to 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.
At least 362 people died in 2017 due to these natural disasters, the agency reported, including 64 killed in Puerto Rico. Outlets such as the New York Timesand BuzzFeed have questioned the official death toll from the island, and estimated that Hurricane Maria has caused the deaths of about 1,000 people.
Noaa announced its figures at the society’s annual conference in Austin, Texas.
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 54.6F (12.6C), 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.
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.