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‘Fingerprints of climate change’: US sets new record for billion-dollar climate disasters in a year

‘Fingerprints of climate change’: US sets new record for billion-dollar climate disasters in a year

The US has seen a record number of climate and weather disasters that caused more than $1 billion (€933 million) in damage this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

The weather and storm monitoring agency says that 23 separate billion-dollar disasters have occurred so far in 2023, affecting almost every part of the country. 

They caused a total of 253 indirect and direct deaths and more than $57.6 billion (€54 billion) in damages.

“With approximately four months still left in the year, 2023 has already surpassed the previous record of 22 events seen in all of 2020,” the NOAA writes in its report.

Eight new disasters have been added to the list since it was last updated a month ago.

These events include August’s devastating wildfires in Hawaii where high winds caused flames to spread rapidly, wiping out the town of Lahaina almost entirely. 

Destroyed homes in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii this summer.AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

It was the deadliest wildfire the US has seen in almost a century, killing at least 115 people and causing an estimated $5.5 billion (€5.1 billion) of property damage.

The damage from some events, like Storm Hillary in California in August and the Southern/Midwestern drought is still being assessed to see if they too will be added to the list.

“We’re seeing the fingerprints of climate change all over our nation,” Adam Smith, the NOAA applied climatologist and economist who tracks the billion-dollar disasters told news agency AP.

Are billion-dollar weather events on the rise?

The monitoring agency has been tracking billion-dollar weather disasters since 1980, adjusting the cost of damages for inflation. Smith adds that what is happening reflects a rise in the number of disasters and more construction in risk-prone locations.

“Exposure plus vulnerability plus climate change is supercharging more of these into billion-dollar disasters,” he says.

People walk beside piles of debris on 2 April, 2023, in the Indian Hills area of North Little Rock.Staci Vandagriff/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP

Climate scientists have been warning about an increase in weather disasters for a while, and the rise in events that cause costly damage is in line with this. There may have also been a boost from the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Smith believed that the 2020 record would last for a long time because it smashed the previous number of 16. It didn’t and now he doesn’t believe that the new record will last long.

As the situation gets worse, experts say the US needs to do more to adapt to the increased number of disasters.

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