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2023 has proven to be a year of many highs and lows. But among the highs, unfortunately, is the record number of billion-dollar climate disasters the US has witnessed. With still four months left in the year, the US has broken its previous record set in 2020 with 23 extreme weather events that have each cost over $1bn.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided these startling numbers, with the total cost of disasters in 2023 already surpassing $57.6bn. And this figure doesn’t even factor in some major calamities like Tropical Storm Hilary, which wreaked havoc just last month.
However, what’s causing this spike in expensive weather incidents? Adam Smith, the NOAA climatologist and economist, offers an insightful perspective. He mentions the increased number of natural disasters and the growth of communities in high-risk areas as major contributors. Smith describes the situation aptly, “Exposure plus vulnerability plus Climate change is supercharging more of these into billion-dollar disasters.”
Recent additions to the billion-dollar disaster list include the tragic Hawaii wildfires on Maui, causing damages expected to exceed $5.5bn and Hurricane Idalia which caused massive destruction in Florida. Furthermore, areas across the center, north-central, south, and southeastern states were prominently affected this year.
For local governments, these disasters present a significant financial challenge. With over 60 million Americans recently facing heat alerts, cities grapple with funding allocation.
Craig Fugate, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director, emphasized the need for adaptation, stating, “The climate has already changed, and neither the built environment nor the response systems are keeping up.”
This surge in disasters aligns with what many climate scientists, including Katharine Jacobs from the University of Arizona, have long warned about: intensifying and frequent extreme events due to added energy in the atmosphere and oceans.
Smith had previously believed that the 2020 record would remain unbroken for a while. He’s since reconsidered this, given the escalating situation.
Chris Field, a climate scientist at Stanford University, termed the current trend “very troubling”. But he also offers hope by saying, “If we want to reduce the damages from severe weather, we need to accelerate progress on both stopping climate change and building resilience.”