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Hurricane Ian and other disasters made 2022 one of the most costly years

Destroyed houses and buildings are visible in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., on Friday.
Tom James for WGCU/NPR
Destroyed houses and buildings are visible in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., after Hurricane Ian in September.

Billion-dollar disasters caused by extreme weather and climate change rose across the U.S. in 2022, making it the third worst year on record, according to a federal report out Tuesday. The biggest was Hurricane Ian, which devastated Florida and eroded beaches in the Carolinas in September.

In 1980, the U.S. saw just three disasters costing more than $1 billion dollars each, adjusted for inflation. Last year there were 18 such disasters, including hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and floods, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

Those 18 disasters led to 474 deaths and cost $165 billion nationwide, up $10 billion from the total in 2021, when there were 20. Only 2017 and 2005 (which included Hurricane Katrina) were more expensive. NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said climate change is behind the trend.

"More Americans in more places are exposed to risks from climate and extreme weather, from hurricanes to wildfires, droughts to coastal and urban flooding. People are seeing the impacts of a changing climate system where they live, work and play on a regular basis," Spinrad said at a press conference during the American Meteorological Association annual meeting in Denver.

Spinrad said as climate change advances, disasters will become more common.

"While climate mitigation is an important piece of the puzzle in addressing extreme climate events, we must also prepare for the impacts that we cannot avoid," he said.

In September, Hurricane Ian alone caused more than $100 billion in damages, becoming the third-most costly storm on record, behind only hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.

Other major natural disasters last year included:

  • The heat wave and drought in the western and central U.S. The large drought area and length of the drought set records. 
  • Western wildfires in spring and fall.
  • Severe weather and tornadoes across the South in the spring. The year's 1,331 tornadoes nationwide was 9% above average. 
  • Flooding in Kentucky and Missouri in July.
  • The central and East Coast cold wave in December.

"Climate change is creating more and more intense extreme (weather) events that cause significant damage and often sets off cascading hazards like intense drought followed by devastating wildfires, followed by dangerous flooding and mudslides — as we're seeing, for example, as a consequence of the atmospheric rivers in California," Spinrad said.
Spinrad said the number of days between billion-dollar disasters on average has dropped from just 82 to just 18 since 1980.

NOAA's report Tuesday also looked at how climate change is affecting broader weather trends. The average temperature last year across the continental U.S. was 53.4 degrees Fahrenheit, which was 1.4 degrees above the 20th-century average. That made it the 18th-warmest year on record. Meanwhile, the year was drier on average than historical trends, which contributed to drought conditions in the west and central U.S.

"40% or more of the lower 48 has been in drought for the last 119 weeks, which is approaching twice the previous record of 68 consecutive weeks," said Karin Gleason, an Asheville-based climate scientist with NOAA.

See NOAA's report on billion-dollar disasters at NOAA.gov.

The U.S. saw 18 weather and climate related disasters costing more than a billion dollars in 2022 - the third most on record.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The U.S. saw 18 weather and climate related disasters costing more than a billion dollars in 2022 - the third most on record.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.