A report just-released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows 2022 was the third most expensive year in history for damages directly accountable to global heating, which we have inflicted upon ourselves.
A map of the 18 $1 billion climate-related disasters during the U.S. in 2022. Photo: NOAA
Since 1980, the first year NOAA created this report, there have been 341 major climate-related disasters with a total of $2.476 trillion in damages, paid for via insurance, federal emergency funds, state agencies, private emergency assistance organizations, or absorbed by individuals, corporations, and other entities. 15,821 people died because of those disasters.
That averages out at 7.9 climate disasters per year and 377 deaths per year.
In comparison, in 2022, there were 18 climate events which cost the nation at least $1 billion each, for a grand total of $165 billion in costs incurred and 474 storm related deaths.
These 18 events were, ranked from the highest total damages to the lowest:
These damages added to mostly-continually increasing numbers of events costs more than $1 billion or more over the last four decades. 2022’s total number of climate disasters came in with the third highest of these major disaster events in NOAA’s detailed records tracking history. It came only slightly behind 2021, the second highest, and 2020’s peak numbers.
A map showing the increasing numbers of climate disasters totaling over $1 billion in damages in the U.S. over time, with details showing the breakdown of the various types of disasters. Photo: NOAA
Total damage costs were up last year by roughly $10 billion from 2021, earning 2022 the distinction of being the third most expensive climate year in history.
Cumulative climate damages incurred for the most costliest climate disaster years in the United States since 1980. Photo: NOAA
Topping the list of all annual damage totals was 2017, with $373.2 billion in total damages. That year was dominated from a cost standpoint by the $151.3 billion in damages left behind by Hurricane Harvey, $108.9 billion associated with Hurricane Maria, and Hurricane Irma’s $60.5 billion costs.
The second worst year on the list, 2005, incurred $253.5 billion of damages; that included the quadruple hit of Hurricane Katrina ($190 billion), Hurricane Wilma ($28.3 billion), Hurricane Rita ($27.8 billion), and Hurricane Dennis ($3.8 billion).
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Adam Smith, an applied climatologist with the agency, described what happened in 2022 as “part of a trend of hyperactive disaster years” in the United States.
This trend is especially easy to see when considering just the period from 2016-2022. In those seven years, the country has been blasted, super-heated, flooded, and shredded by a total of 122 separate disasters in the $1B+ damage category. Collectively, those events caused over $1 trillion in damage and killed over 5,000 people.
Smith noted that the continental United States is experiencing multiple intense natural disaster cycles, including longer and more severe periods of severe tornadoes and hail, wildfire, and extreme rainfall with associated flooding periods. Hurricanes are increasingly more numerous and powerful, though last years’ totals represent what appears to be only a temporary respite from the long-term trends in this category of extreme weather events.
“It does not seem likely that these trends will reverse,” Smith said, commenting about what appears to be happening. “Perhaps we need to be more prepared for a future that has rapidly become our present.”
With greenhouse gas emissions climbing ever faster, and with countries and businesses lacking the will or ability to do anything serious about them, Smith’s conclusion as of the end of 2022 is likely only the beginning of a decade which will easily go down in history as the deadliest and most destructive years since the climate crisis took hold.
2023 is off to an ominous start with record cold and warm temperatures and massive flooding in California that has killed at least 17 people and is expected to cost more than $1 billion in damages.
Though it is unlikely it would happen, one of the best responses to the escalating numbers of extreme climate events, the amount of damage they cause, and growing death toll from them would be begin to plan alternative collective actions — and pay the bills associated with those actions now — to prepare for what is an almost certain more catastrophic climate future.
A good place to start would be to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and our demise. The next step is to design and build climate-proof, self-sufficient and truly sustainable habitats, like the company Climate Survival Solutions is doing.