The US was battered by 20 separate billion-dollar weather disasters in 2021, one of the most catastrophic natural catastrophes’ years on record which led to at least 688 deaths, according to the annual report of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Damage from the year’s 20 most costly disasters, which included thousands of wildfires burning across western states, frigid temperatures and hail storms in Texas, tornadoes in the south-east, and tropical storms saturating the east coast, totaled around $145bn.
This makes 2021 the third costliest extreme weather year on record, with four tropical storms – Elsa, Fred, Ida and Nicholas – accounting for just over half the total price tag.
The deadly mega-disasters were scattered throughout 2021 and hit communities from coast to coast, starting with flash floods and bomb cyclones in California and ending with Colorado’s most destructive ever wildfire, which tore through almost 1,100 homes and 6,000 acres (2,400 hectares), causing more than $10bn of damage.
Between 44% and 56% of the country was affected by drought during the course of 2021.
Overall, the US saw its fourth-hottest year on record fueled by historic highs in December (beating 2015) that produced spring-like temperatures on parts of the east coast. Ten states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas – also had their warmest December on record.
Another historic event was the mid-February freeze in Texas which left more than 200 dead and thousands without power and running water. Damages are estimated at $24bn, costing more than double the so-called storm of the century which stretched Canada to Honduras in March 1993.
While the growing intensity and frequency of weather and climate disasters like extreme rainfall, extreme heat, and drought are directly attributed to global heating, the links to tornadoes are still not fully understood
Still, 2021 was a very active tornado year with a record-shattering 193 in December – nearly double the previous high of 97 in 2002.
Disaster tracking by NOAA shows that the average number of annual billion-dollar events over the past five years was 17.2 compared with just 5.3 during the 1990s. The staggering costs from the mega-disasters between 2017 and 2021 totaled almost $750bn.
Much of the growth has taken place in vulnerable areas like coasts, river floodplains and the wild land urban interface. Vulnerability is especially high where building codes are insufficient for reducing damage from extreme events.
“The data highlights a worsening and undeniable trend that underscores the reality of how the climate crisis is already affecting every region of the country,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Americans! You have to get ready and be prepared, as there is no end in sight. Extreme weather and climate disasters, already escalating, are going to skyrocket over the next years to come, likely affecting a growing number of US citizens – humanly and economically.
One of most expensive year around the world too
At a global scale, German reinsurer Munich Re says 2021 was one of the most expensive years on record, with global damages estimated at around 280 billion dollars – only 120 billion dollars of which was insured.
Hardest hit was the United States, which accounted for 150 billion dollars of the damages. It was struck by Hurricane Ida, disastrous tornadoes, an extremely cold winter in the south and wildfires in the west.
In Europe, floods did the most damage. 54 billion dollars worth in total. Last year’s flooding in western Germany was the country’s most costly natural disaster on record.
Meanwhile the Asia-Pacific region saw damages of 48 billion dollars, but a mere 8 billion of which was covered by insurance.
So what made 2021 a remarkable year for natural disasters? [The Guardian]
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