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NOAA: 2017 The Costliest-ever Year for U.S. Natural Disasters

by Evin Moore

Massive flooding destroyed lots of property in Houston, Texas – but the worst damage has been to the the U.S.territory of Puerto Rico, where significant portions of the island are still without power months later.


The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) organization, has recently announced that 2017 was the costliest year on record for the U.S. when it came to severe weather. In 2017, the U.S. experienced 16 separate weather and climate disasters that resulted in $1 billion dollars of damage or more. This year ties 2011 for total number of $1 billion-or-more disasters, and includes three hurricanes, two flooding events, three major tornado outbreaks, five major storm events, the freeze in Georgia, a drought in North Dakota, and Western firestorms.

Even though 2017 is tied with 2011 for the number of $1 billion-or-more events, the total monetary damage for the 2017 season has set a new-record of $306 billion. This beats 2005, which set a record of $214.8 billion, due largely to hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

Of this year’s hurricane and other natural disasters, the insurance industry will be paying for about $135 billion worth of damage, a new record. According to a press release from Munich RE, a major reinsurer, the total cost of natural disasters worldwide for 2017 was $330 billion. 2011 holds the record for highest global cost, at $354 billion, due mostly to earthquakes that year in Japan.

Last year was certainly a year of extreme weather events, and while not a new baseline for the following year, there does seem to be an increase in the average amount of fiscal damage caused by natural disasters every year, even when adjusted for inflation.

The NCEI is often called upon to give predictions of future weather patterns, and they have compiled a list of all $1 billion-or-more events from 1980 to 2017. Since 1980, there have been 219 weather events that cost at least $1 billion (adjusted for inflation). For the years between 1980 and 2017, the annual
average was 5.8 events. In the last five years, 2013 to 2017, the average was double, at 11.6 events. This indicates that the number of very destructive weather events has gone up and will continue to go up.

The rising global average temperature could be a key driver in this change, as warmer air holds more rain, warmer waters create stronger hurricanes, and rising ocean waters cause more flooding, which all leads to stronger storms. Data from NOAA shows that the U.S. had its third warmest year on record, and Asian countries that experienced strong flooding also had above average temperatures. If curious, the announcement and accompanying data is available online at ncdc.noaa.gov/billions.

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