The weather disasters of billion-dollar such as destructive hurricanes and ferocious wildfires shattered the United States twice the number that occurred earlier. As per data released by the federal government on Wednesday, experts think that climate change partly fuelled these extreme weather events.
As per the data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 241 weather and climate disasters caused overall damage of more than $1 billion since 1980 in the US alone. Between 1980 and 2013, on an average roughly half a dozen of such disasters occurred every year and the number has jumped to more than 12 in recent five years.
Deke Arndt, the Chief, Monitoring Branch, National Centers for Environmental Information, NOAA, told reporters on Wednesday-
We had about twice the number of billion dollar disasters than we have in an average year over the last 40 years or so.
NOAA reported that 14 individual weather and climate disasters hit the United States during 2018 costing at least $1 billion each. The number of people killed in disasters was at least 247, and the estimated cost of the damage to the nation was $91 billion. Out of which about $73 billion was attributable to three events: Hurricanes Florence and Michael and the damages in the wildfires that raged across the West.
The year 2017 still hold the record for the most expensive year for such disasters. Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma along with raging Western wildfires and other natural catastrophes caused $306 billion in total damage in 2017. This historic year faced 16 separate disasters costing $1 billion and more each. However, in recent times, experts suspect an alarming trend toward the increase in the number of billion-dollar disasters, driven by the warming climate at least in part.
Climate change is playing a significant role behind all these increasingly. There are also certain other factors that play an essential role. A hurricane that hits a densely populated area has a much higher economic impact compared to the one that hits a less crowded part of the country like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 or Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Additionally, growing population, development of cities and infrastructure near coasts or along rivers and inconsistent building codes also play a role.
“The recent past is likely prologue,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who has studied the economic impact of climate change on different parts of the country in the coming decades.
NOAA released data and officially declared 2018, the fourth-warmest year since 1880. The last four years have been recorded as the warmest years and nine out of 10 warmest years have been recorded since 2005. NASA and NOAA analyzed that the Earth was at least 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer compared to the pre-industrial era of the middle to the late 1800s.
Gavin Schmidt, the Director, Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, which produces the temperature record, said, “It was quite clearly the fourth warmest year in our record, which goes back to 1880, and probably was warmer than many hundreds of years before that.”
The year 2018 was also the wettest in the U.S. in the last 35 years, and the third wettest since record-keeping started in 1895 according to the data of agencies.
Scientists predicted more severe droughts, longer wildfire seasons and more frequent floods due to the warming climate. The climate models also predict more of the most catastrophic and costly events over time like more destructive hurricanes slamming into the East, and Gulf coasts and more intense wildfires in the West said Solomon Hsiang, a public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who has studied how natural disasters affect societies.
However, the overall aggregate damage figures are undoubtedly increasing on account of climate change. As per Emanuel, there are reasons to suspect that climate change is playing a notable role although 95 percent certainty not achieved.
Kerry Emanuel, a top hurricane expert, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that climate change has helped to shape the severity of at least some of the natural disasters in recent years.“If you’re assessing a risk, a risk you have every reason to think exists, nobody would ever require that certainty,” Emanuel continued. “Generals in the battlefield would never wait for 95 percent certainty.”
Hurricanes mostly dominate the distribution of damages from billion-dollar disasters. However, the Camp Fire in the fall became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California. Last year, the wildfires accounted for $24 billion of damage, more than the record of $18 billion, set in 2017 according to the estimates of NOAA.
There are other events including droughts, hailstorms, winter storms, tornadoes, and the ever-growing number of hotter days that come under the calamities fuelled by climate change and the economic losses associated with these, surpassed the billion-dollar mark over the past years.
“There’s no doubt, the Southwest is the epicenter of negative economic impacts in coming decades,” Muro said. “In the big picture, the Southeast and the Gulf Coast are the center of climate harm in the United States.”