A record 22 major natural disasters hit the United States in 2020, each causing at least $ 1 billion in damage, according to a new analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Friday.
The total cost of these major hurricanes, wildfires and severe storms amounted to $ 95 billion in damage, making 2020 the country’s fourth costliest year in terms of disasters.
“We kind of sound like a broken record saying that every year is a historic year, but it’s true,” Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at NOAA’s National Environmental Information Centers who has told BuzzFeed News worked on analysis. “We have run out of adjectives to describe these extreme events.”
The increase in costs is in part due to people continuing to move and build in places that put their homes and businesses at risk of damage from fires, storms and floods. But man-made climate change is also to blame, leading to an increasing number of extreme disasters. The seasons of forest fires are lengthening. Hurricanes are getting wetter and wetter. And heavier rains across the United States is causing more inland flooding.
And in the latest sign of the worsening climate crisis, new data from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change service shows 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year on record worldwide. US scientists will publish their own analysis of last year’s temperatures next week.
“As we move forward in time, the fingerprints of climate change become more evident for some of these extreme events,” Smith said.
The costliest disaster of 2020 was Hurricane Laura, which hit the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm and generated $ 19 billion in damage, one of seven tropical cyclones that cost more $ 1 billion in the United States. Laura also claimed 42 lives, making it the nation’s deadliest storm of the year.
Even if 2020 was the busiest hurricane season on record in the Atlantic Ocean, the United States was spared what could have been even greater storm-related damage as no major storms hit a major city, Smith said.
Hurricanes have always been among the costliest disasters in the United States. 2017 previously shared the record for most costly disasters – 16 of them – in part due to its active hurricane season, and he still claims the record for the costliest year, racking up $ 306 in damage largely from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Last year was also a catastrophic year for forest fires. The fires in the western states of California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington resulted in combined damage of $ 16.5 billion, burning over 10.2 million acres and causing 46 deaths, NOAA says . Forest fires have also released large amounts of air pollution, associated with health risks like asthma and heart attacks, which trigger public health costs not factored into the NOAA analysis.
Another costly disaster of 2020 was the Derecho Windstorm that traveled from southeastern South Dakota to Ohio, destroying homes and buildings, cutting power for over a million people and causing $ 11 billion in damage in total.