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Record Billion-Dollar Weather Damage in 2020

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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The Aug. 10 Midwest derecho was one of a record 22 weather events in 2020 where damage exceeded the $1-billion value. (DTN photo by Matthew Wilde)

Following is the text of a NOAA news release detailing the record number of extreme weather events in 2020 that set a new record for damages at $1 billion or more.

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It was an extraordinary year for weather and climate events in the U.S.: The nation endured an unprecedented 22 billion-dollar disasters in 2020.

A record number of named tropical storms formed in the Atlantic, with a record 12 making landfall. The nation also had its most active wildfire year on record due to very dry conditions in the West and unusually warm temperatures that gripped much of the country ...

Last year, the U.S. experienced a record-smashing 22 weather and climate disasters that killed at least 262 people and injured scores more:

-- 1 wildfire event (Western wildfires focused across California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington);

-- 1 drought and heatwave event (summer/fall across Western and Central U.S.);

-- 3 tornado outbreaks (including the Nashville tornado and Easter outbreak);

-- 7 tropical cyclones (Hanna, Isaias, Laura, Sally, Delta, Zeta and Eta); and

-- 10 severe weather events (including the Midwest derecho and Texas hail storms).

Damages from these disasters exceeded $1 billion each and totaled approximately $95 billion for all 22 events.

The seven billion-dollar tropical cyclones were the most in one year since NOAA started keeping track of billion-dollar disasters in 1980. The extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced an unprecedented 30 named storms, with 12 making landfall in the continental U.S. The combined cost of the seven tropical systems was approximately $40.1 billion, more than 42% of the total U.S. billion-dollar disaster price tag in 2020.

Last year was also the most active wildfire year on record across the West. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history occurred during 2020, with California recording five of the six largest wildfires in its history. Across the U.S., wildfires burned nearly 10.3 million acres during 2020, exceeding the 2000-2010 average by 51%. This was the largest acreage consumed in the U.S. since at least 2000.

Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 285 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that have exceeded $1.875 trillion in total damages to date.

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The full NOAA release is at this link: https://www.noaa.gov/….

The insurance industry is also taking more and more notice of the cost of these storms. The Munich Re reinsurance company noted that the $95 billion in natural disaster damage in the U.S. was well above the $51 billion in damage cost in 2019. Munich Re also noted that worldwide, the damage total from natural disasters last year reached $210 billion.

The Munich Re Chief Climate and Geo Scientist, Ernst Rauch, tied these damage figures and their occurrence to the ongoing trend of a warmer planet. The global mean temperature (January to November) in 2020 was around 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than pre-industrial levels (1880 to 1900) -- just 0.01 deg C (0.018 degrees F) shy of 2016, the warmest year on record.

The regions north of the Arctic Circle experienced a sharp rise in temperature more than twice as high as the average global increase. In parts of northern Siberia, there were extensive wildfires and temperatures of over 30 C (86 F).

Rauch commented as follows: "Even if the weather disasters for one year cannot be directly linked to climate change, and a longer period needs to be studied to assess their significance, these extreme values fit with the expected consequences of a decades-long warming trend for the atmosphere and oceans that is influencing risks. An increasing number of heatwaves and droughts are fueling wildfires, and severe tropical cyclones and thunderstorms are becoming more frequent. Research shows that events such as this year's heatwaves in northern Siberia are 600 times more likely to occur than previously."

The full Munich Re release is at this link: https://www.munichre.com/….

Bryce Anderson can be reached at bryce.anderson@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @BAndersonDTN

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