The U.S. has seen 18 weather and climate disasters costing at least $1 billion so far this year, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This year’s disasters include the February cold snap in Texas, wildfires out West, and 20 named storms so far in the Atlantic basin. 2021 is on pace to break the record for billion-dollar weather disasters, 22, which was set last year. Already, this year’s disasters have inflicted a greater toll, causing $104.8 billion in damages, compared with $100.2 billion in total last year, and killing 538 people, more than double the number killed in all of 2020.
The growing number of weather disasters means there is less time to recover between floods, heat waves, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other such events. The interval between billion-dollar weather disasters, which averaged 82 days in the 1980s, has dropped to just 18 days on average today, according to an analysis from Climate Central.
The rise in billion-dollar disasters is being driven, in part, by people moving to disaster-prone areas, The Washington Post reports. The growth of buildings and infrastructure in such regions means that severe weather inflicts more damage. At the same time, climate change is fueling more powerful disasters. In the first 9 months of 2021, the Lower 48 states were around 1 degree C warmer than the 20th-century average.
“What we are seeing now with these increasing disasters is with just 1 degree [C] of warming on our planet,” Camilo Mora, a biologist at the University of Hawaii, told the Post. “Looking into the future, our best-case scenario is 1.5 degrees of warming, and the worst case is 5 degrees. We have to choose now between bad or terrible outcomes.”