New Report Shows Weather Disasters In 2017 Cost More Than $300 Billion
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Before it got cold this winter, it was warm - very warm. In fact, new data out today shows 2017 was the third-warmest year recorded in the lower 48 states. And it was also a record-breaking year for the cost of weather disasters. Sixteen weather events each broke the billion-dollar barrier. NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on the weather that was.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Last year was 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average year during the 20th century. That may be hard to remember in the thick of winter, but climate scientist Deke Arndt points out that even in a warm year, we still have frigid weather that invades from the north.
DEKE ARNDT: We still have very cold poles, and we still have the same weather systems that pull cold air away from those poles into places where we live.
JOYCE: Arndt is part of a team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that assesses each year's weather and climate. They also tally the cost of bad weather. And last year was pricey. NOAA researcher Adam Smith says the cost of these events was unprecedented.
ADAM SMITH: The cumulative impact of the 16 events exceed $300 billion in damage, which is a new U.S. annual record.
JOYCE: There was of course the trinity of horrible hurricanes - Harvey, Irma and Maria. But there was also flooding in California last February followed by ferocious late-year fires. There were hailstorms in Colorado and Minnesota and three tornado outbreaks. There was drought and fire in the Plains states.
NOAA's assessment acknowledges that part of the rising disaster toll is due to people building more homes and businesses in vulnerable places. That's especially true with recent losses from wildfires and hurricanes. But NOAA's Deke Arndt notes that a warmer world clearly makes some weather worse.
ARNDT: Heat waves - there's their duration, their intensity. Their frequency is going up.
JOYCE: As is the frequency of very heavy rainfalls. Oceanographer Antonio Busalacchi says climate models predict more of the same.
ANTONIO BUSALACCHI: The trend is there. It's clearly evident. We are on an upward and warming slope.
JOYCE: One that increasingly worries not only scientists but insurance companies.
BUSALACCHI: Where is the risk in the future going to be from regional sea level rise and rainfall flooding, et cetera?
JOYCE: Busalacchi runs the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. He says many scientists who work for him are taking on a new task - advising insurance companies on how to lower those risks as the climate keeps warming. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.