DENVER (AP) — Costly weather disasters befell America last year, striking the nation with 18 extreme climates, each causing at least $1 billion in damage, totaling more than $165 billion, federal climate scientists calculated Tuesday.
While 2022 wasn’t a record hot year for the United States, it was the country’s third wildest year in terms of both the number of extremes, which cost $1 billion, and overall damage caused by weather disasters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a report issued in conference of the American Meteorological Society.
The amount, cost and death toll of billions of dollars worth of weather disasters are the key inflation-adjusted measurement NOAA uses to see how bad man-made climate change is. They led to at least 474 deaths.
Hurricane Ian, the costliest drought in a decade, and the pre-Christmas winter storm pushed last year’s damage to its highest level since 2017. The only more expensive years were 2017 – when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria hit – and disastrous 2005 when numerous hurricanes, led by Katrina , hit the southeast, federal meteorologists said. The only busier years for billion-dollar disasters have been 2020 and 2021.
Ian was the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history, causing $112.9 billion in damage, followed by $22.2 billion in drought damage in the west and midwest that halted barge traffic on the Mississippi River, officials said . The $165 billion total for 2022 does not yet include the winter storm total three weeks ago, which could bring it closer to $170 billion, officials said.
“Climate change is supercharging many of these extremes, which could lead to billion-dollar disasters,” said climate scientist and NOAA economist Adam Smith, who calculates disasters by updating them to account for inflation. More people are also building in a damaging way, he said, along expensive coasts and rivers, and the lack of strong building standards is also an issue. He said that with much beachfront development, real estate inflation could be a minor local factor.
“The United States has some of the most diverse and intense weather and climate extremes to be seen in many parts of the world. And we have a large population that is prone to these extremes,” Smith told the Associated Press. “So now it’s really an imbalance.”
Climate change is a hard-to-ignore factor in extremes ranging from deadly heat to droughts and floods, Smith and other officials said.
“The risk of extreme events is increasing and they are affecting every corner of the world,” said Sarah Kapnick, NOAA’s chief scientist.
The problem is especially severe when it comes to dangerous heat, said NOAA climatologist Stephanie Herring, who edits an annual study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that calculates how much extreme weather in recent years has been worsened by climate change.
“Research shows that this extreme heat is likely to become the new normal,” Herring said at a weather conference.
Smith said there has been a dramatic increase in the size and number of very costly extremes in the United States since around 2016. Over the past seven years, 121 different billion-dollar weather disasters have caused more than $1 trillion in damage and killed more than 5,000 people.
These years eclipse what happened in the 80s, 90s or 2000s. For example, in the entire decade of the 1990s there were 55 different disasters worth billions of dollars, costing a total of $313 billion and claiming 3,062 lives.
“It’s not just one, but many, many different kinds of extremes across most of the country,” Smith said. “If there were extremes on the bingo card, we’ve almost filled it up in the last few years.”
There were nine billion-dollar non-tropical storms in 2022, including derechoes, three hurricanes, two tornado outbreaks, one flood, one winter storm, a major drought, and costly wildfires. The only general type of weather catastrophe that was missing was an icy freeze, which causes $1 billion or more in damage to crops, Smith said. He said Florida came close to it last month but missed it by a degree or two and farmers took some precautionary steps.
What prevented the freeze was one of two “silver linings” in extremes in 2022, Smith said. Second, the forest fire season, while still costing well over $1 billion, was not as severe as in previous years, except in New Mexico and Texas, he said.
For the first 11 months of 2022, California experienced the second driest year on record, but downpours from the atmospheric river beginning in December made it only the ninth driest year on record in California, said Karin Gleason, NOAA’s head of climate monitoring.
Gleason said La Nina is cooling the eastern Pacific for the third year in a row, which tends to change weather patterns around the world and moderate global warming.
“It’s been a warm year certainly above average for most of the country, but nothing off the charts,” Gleason said. The country’s average temperature was 53.4 degrees (11.9 degrees Celsius), which is 1.4 degrees (0.8 degrees) higher than the 20th century average.
Gleason said the year was 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) below normal for rainfall and snowfall, the 27th driest in 128 years.
NOAA and NASA will announce on Thursday how hot the world was in 2022, which won’t be a record but will likely be in the top seven hottest years. The European climate monitoring group Copernicus released its calculations on Tuesday, saying that 2022 was the fifth warmest in the world and the second warmest in Europe.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – which trap the heat that causes global warming – increased by 1.3% in 2022, according to a report released Tuesday by Rhodium Group, a Rhodium Group think tank. This is less than economic growth. The increase in emissions was driven by cars, trucks and industry, with electricity generation polluting slightly less.
This is the second year in a row, both after the easing of lockdowns, that US carbon dioxide pollution has increased after a fairly steady decline for several years. According to the Rhodium report, this makes it less likely that the US will meet its commitment to halve its carbon emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
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