Ag Weather Forum

Climate Disaster Price Tag in Trillions

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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The year 2021 added eight billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, including the most-costly U.S. winter storm on record. (NOAA graphic)

Forty years and $2 trillion dollars. That's the summation of the cost from weather disasters in the United States related to climate change that have occurred since 1980. That $2-trillion price tag is just from totaling up the cost of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters; the actual total is likely even higher.

NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) have tracked the billion-dollar damage events going back to 1980. At the end of 2020, the tally of billion-dollar disasters was 285 with a total damage figure of $1.875 trillion. (All cost estimates are adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index as of December 2020). The year 2020 was a big contributor to this total with a record $22 billion in weather or climate disaster events.

So far, 2021 is notably adding to this number. The billion-dollar damage event threshold was hit eight times in the first half of 2021. Here are some details from the June U.S. State of the Climate report.

The eight individual billion-dollar events of 2021 include:

-- two flood events focused in California (Jan. 24-29) and Louisiana (May 14-19);

-- the historic mid-February winter storm and cold wave with impacts focused in Texas;

-- two severe storm events (March 24-25 and March 27-28) across many southeastern and eastern states, respectively;

-- two severe storm events focused across Texas and Oklahoma (April 12-15 and April 27-28);

-- the expanding Western drought and heatwave that has amplified throughout 2021.

In addition to significant economic impacts, the eight events identified during the first half of 2021 resulted in at least 331 fatalities.

The most-costly U.S. event so far in 2021 was the Feb. 10-19 winter storm and cold wave with total, direct losses of approximately $20 billion. This is now the most-costly U.S. winter storm event on record surpassing (nearly doubling the inflation-adjusted cost of) Superstorm 1993.

The January-June 2021 inflation-adjusted costs are at a near-record pace for the first six months, at nearly $30 billion -- trailing only 2011.

June can also be described as a month which was warm to hot. The June contiguous U.S. temperature was 72.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 4.2 degrees F above the 20th-century average. This ranked thee warmest in the 127 years of recordkeeping and surpassed the previous record for June set in 2016 by 0.9 degrees F. The year-to-date average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 49.3 degrees F, 1.7 degrees F above the 20th-century average, ranking in the warmest third of the January-June record.

As far as precipitation is concerned, the contiguous U.S. June precipitation total was 2.93 inches, exactly average. Averaged over the first six months of the year, the precipitation total for January-to-June was 14.64 inches, 0.67 inch below average, ranking in the driest third of the 127-year record.

The June NOAA/NCEI report is available here: https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/…

The weather and climate damage report at the end of 2020 is available here: https://www.climate.gov/…

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

Follow him on Twitter @BAndersonDTN

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