Hundreds of Americans died from climate disasters in 2023, which has already broken records for the most billion-dollar disasters in a single year.
The National Center for Environmental Information has released staggering numbers 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 remaining, the United States has been hit by 23 disasters that resulted in a loss of at least $1 billion each, eclipsing the previous annual record of 22 events costing ten figures in 2022.
Some 253 people have died this year in climate disasters, resulting in a financial cost of $57.6 billion – and that doesn’t yet include Hurricane Idalia.
Adam Smith, an applied climatologist and NOAA economist who tracks billion-dollar disasters, likened them to the “fingerprints of climate change all over our country.”
With four months remaining, the United States has been hit by 23 disasters that resulted in a loss of at least $1 billion each (mapped) – eclipsing the previous annual record of 22 events with a 10-digit price tag in 2022.
About 115 people are believed to have died in the Maui wildfires that destroyed parts of the island, including historic Old Town Lahaina, in early August of this year.
Southern California was flooded by extreme rains that turned residential roads into rivers in February of this year.
“I wouldn’t expect things to slow down anytime soon,” he said.
Several other events may also have surpassed the billion-dollar mark this year, including drought in the South and Midwest, as well as Tropical Storm Hillary that ravaged Southern California this summer.
Besides Idalia and the Hawaii wildfires, the 23 devastating events include 18 severe storms in several states – including tornadoes, high winds and hailstorms – two major floods and a winter blizzard.
This ranges from the winter storm that hit the Northeast on February 2-5 – when record wind chills of -104 F were felt on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, to the monstrous hail that hit Minnesota on the 11th. august.
Other storms reached “severe” status – meaning they pose a risk to life – in states including Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
According to NOAA, the frequency and cost of disasters are increasing over time due to climate change, an increase in the number of built-up areas in risky areas, and an increase in people’s material wealth.
“Exposure, vulnerability and climate change are driving an increasing number of these billion-dollar disasters,” Smith said.
This year has already broken records for the most billion-dollar disasters to occur in a single year, with 23 to date.
Florida homes and businesses destroyed by Hurricane Idalia in August
Each disaster price covers the direct costs of physical damage to buildings, vehicles, property, infrastructure and agricultural assets, including crops and livestock.
NOAA has tracked billions of dollars worth of weather disasters in the United States since 1980 and adjusts damage costs for inflation.
Since records began, the United States has suffered as many as 360 separate weather and climate disasters, with aggregate damages exceeding $1 billion, based on the CPI adjustment to 2023.
The total cost of these 360 events exceeds $2.57 trillion.
NOAA has said that while $1 billion is an arbitrary threshold, events that exceed that eye-popping figure account for more than 80 percent of the damage caused by all weather and climate events in the United States.
Weather disasters costing 10-figure sums or more represent an increasingly large percentage of the cumulative damages from all climate-related events.
Since 1980, the annual average for the number of disasters costing more than $1 billion is 8.1, while the annual average for the past five years is 18 events.
Although the annual financial figures for all climate incidents fluctuate, they are on the rise overall.
In an aerial view, mud surrounds homes damaged during a flash flood caused by a monsoon storm that quickly dropped three inches of rain on a region still recovering from Tropical Storm Hilary September 2, 2023 in Thermal , in California.
The combined cost of climate disaster cleanup in 2022 was $177.6 billion, up from $159.4 billion in 2021 and $117.3 billion in 2020.
Hurricane Harvey made 2017 a record year, after hitting Houston, Texas, one of the largest cities in the United States, in August of that year.
Harvey damage alone contributed more than $125 billion to 2017’s record $383.7 billion.
A record 3,280 people died from weather events in America that year.
The second costliest year was 2005, at $260.3 billion, after four devastating hurricanes ravaged North America – Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.