[(Left) The smoke plume from California’s Kincade Fire, as seen from the NOAA-20 satellite on October 27, 2019. (Right) Hurricane Dorian spinning near the Bahamas, as seen by the GOES-16 satellite on September 1, 2019. Dorian, and the wildfires in California and Alaska combined, were two of 14 disasters in the U.S. in 2019 that each exceeded $1 billion in damages. Images from NOAA]
[From NOAA] It was another year of record-making weather and climate for the U.S. in 2019, which was the second wettest behind 1973. Warmer-than-average temperatures were felt by much of the country including Alaska, which logged its hottest year on record.
Alaska also experienced destructive wildfires that, when combined with those in California, caused damages in excess of $1 billion. Thirteen other billion-dollar disasters that struck the U.S. last year included Hurricane Dorian, historic flooding and severe storms.
Here’s a recap of the climate and extreme weather events across the U.S. in 2019:
Climate by the numbers
2019 | January through December
Precipitation across the contiguous U.S. totaled 34.78 inches (4.48 inches above the long-term average), ranking 2019 as the second-wettest year on record after 1973, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
By year’s end, 11 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought. In April, drought conditions had reached a low of 2.3 percent, the smallest drought footprint in the 20-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The average temperature measured across the contiguous U.S. in 2019 was 52.7 degrees F (0.7 of a degree above the 20th-century average), placing 2019 in the warmest third of the 125-year period. Despite the warmth, it was still the coolest year across the Lower 48 states since 2014.
There were some standouts in 2019, including Alaska, which had its hottest year ever recorded — 6.2 degrees F warmer than the long-term average. Georgia and North Carolina also saw their hottest year on record, while Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin each had their wettest year ever recorded.
Billion-dollar disasters in 2019
Last year, the U.S. experienced 14 weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion each and totaling approximately $45 billion. At least 44 people died and many more were injured during the course of these disasters that included:
1 wildfire event (affecting multiple areas in Alaska and California);
2 tropical cyclones (Dorian and Imelda);
3 inland floods (affecting the Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers); and
8 severe storms.
The extreme weather with the most widespread impact was the historically persistent and destructive U.S. flooding across more than 15 states. The combined cost of just the Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi River basin flooding ($20 billion) was almost half of the U.S. cost total in 2019.
Billion-dollar disasters: The historical perspective
During the 2010s, the nation saw a trend of an increasing number of billion-dollar inland flooding events. Even after adjusting for inflation, the U.S. experienced more than twice the number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters during the 2010s (119) as compared with the 2000s (59).
The billion-dollar disaster damage costs over the last decade (2010-2019) for the U.S. were also historically large — costs exceeded $800 billion from 119 separate billion-dollar events.
Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 258 billion-dollar disasters overall that have exceeded $1.75 trillion in total damages.