The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that global warming is radically changing weather patterns. Heat waves are more prolonged and intense, storms are stronger and more frequent, and floodwater is pouring into new areas that are unprepared for the mayhem it causes. According to the United Nations, the rate of extreme weather events and ensuing natural disasters has surged five-fold since 1970, inflicting $3.64 trillion in losses worldwide.
While most of the human toll from this havoc is falling on people in underdeveloped and developing nations, the United States – responsible for the largest share of historical carbon emissions and currently the second-largest emitter after China – has not been immune to the cost of global warming-related disasters.
To determine the most devastating natural disasters in America in 2021, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the National Centers for Environmental Information’s list of Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters, a record of the natural disasters that caused at least $1 billion worth of damage in 2021. Damage estimations are adjusted to the consumer price index. Information on duration of the events and the fatalities they caused comes from the same source.
Last year, 20 of the costliest weather-related disasters in the U.S. inflicted a total of $145 billion in damage to public and private properties. The median cost of these incidents was $1.45 billion, while the three most expensive disasters — wildfires in the West, winter storms across the country’s northern reaches, and Hurricane Ida — caused a combined $110 billion worth of damage. (Internationally, these are the costliest natural disasters of all time.)
Six of these climate-related disasters involved tornadoes that levelled communities in several Southern and Midwestern states. Hail storms pounded numerous states including the Dakotas, New Mexico, and Texas. Flooding unrelated to tropical storms or hurricanes inundated homes and businesses in California and across the South. Two hurricanes and two tropical storms also inflicted severe flooding in numerous Gulf and Eastern states. While stormwater was a major nemesis in last year’s climate disasters, drought conditions in the West inflicted nearly $9 billion in damage. (Here’s a sobering look at before-and-after pictures of the worst hurricanes in American history.)
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