- A record 23 climate events which each racked up at least $1 billion in losses have been listed in 2023, causing 253 deaths – with four months still to go
- Hurricane Idalia and the Maui wildfires tipped the scales to eclipse the previous annual record of 22 events with a 10-figure price-tag in 2022
- Both frequency and cost of weather events are rising due to climate change, a rise in areas being built in risk-prone locations, and a rise in material wealth
Hundreds of Americans have died due to climate catastrophes in 2023, which has already smashed records for the highest number of billion-dollar disasters incurred in a single year.
The National Center for Environmental Information has released eye-watering figures 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 still to go, the US has been struck by 23 disasters which came at a loss of at least $1 billion each – eclipsing the previous annual record of 22 events with a 10-figure price-tag in 2022.
Some 253 people perished in climate catastrophes this year, which have incurred a financial toll of $57.6 billion – and this expense doesn’t yet include Hurricane Idalia.
Adam Smith, the NOAA applied climatologist and economist who tracks the billion-dollar disasters compared them to ‘the fingerprints of climate change all over our nation’.
‘I would not expect things to slow down anytime soon,’ he said.
Several other events might also have surpassed the billion dollar mark this year, including the drought in the South and Midwest, and Tropical Storm Hillary which ravaged southern California this summer.
Along with Idalia and the Hawaii wildfires, the 23 devastating events include 18 severe storms across several states – including tornados, high wind and hail storms – two major floods, and one winter blizzard.
They range from the winter storm which hit the North East from February 2 to 5 – when record-breaking wind chills of -104F were felt on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, to monster hail which pelted Minnesota on August 11.
Other storms reached ‘severe’ status – which is when they pose a risk to life – in states including Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Both the frequency and cost of disasters are increasing over time due to climate change, a rise in the number of areas being built in risk-prone locations, and a rise in material wealth across populations, according to NOAA.
‘Exposure plus vulnerability plus climate change is supercharging more of these into billion-dollar disasters,’ Smith said.
The price-tag of each disaster covers the direct costs of physical damage to buildings, vehicles, possessions, infrastructure, and agricultural assets including crops and livestock.
NOAA has been tracking billion-dollar weather disasters in the United States since 1980 and adjusts damage costs for inflation.
Since records began, the US has suffered a whopping 360 separate weather and climate disasters where overall damages reached exceeded $1 billion, based on CPI adjustment to 2023.
The total cost of these 360 events surpasses $2,570 trillion.
NOAA has said that although $1 billion is an arbitrary threshold, events which top the eye-popping figure account for more than 80% of the damage from all US weather and climate events.
Weather disasters costing 10-figure sums or more are becoming an increasingly larger percentage of the cumulative damage from all climate-related events.
Since 1980, the annual average for the number of disasters coming at a cost of more than $1 billion is 8.1 – while the annual average for the most recent five years is 18 events.
Although annual figures for the financial toll of all climate incidents fluctuate, overall they are rising.
The combined cleanup cost of climate catastrophes in 2022 totaled $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 barreled through Houston, Texas – one of America’s largest cities – in August of that year.
The damage from Harvey alone contributed more than $125 billion towards the 2017 record of $383.7 billion.
A record-breaking 3280 people died due to climate events in America that year.
The second most costly year was 2005 at $260.3 billion, after a staggering four devastating hurricanes ripped through North America – Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.