The frequency of billion dollar disasters has been rising in the past decade. 2020 has now set the bar even higher. A record-shattering twenty two events were classified as billion dollar disasters in 2020, blowing past the old record of sixteen, and affecting nearly every part of the country. The disasters spanned four categories. From drought and wildfires, to an extreme number of severe weather outbreaks and hurricanes.
NOAA Applied Climatologist Adam Smith helped compile and analyze the data. "What really struck me was that we had 7 separate billion dollar tropical cyclones. The previous record was 4, in 2004 and 2005... it is not typical to have a record number of tropical cyclones and a record number of severe storm events in the same year. That is an anomaly. Hopefully that never happens again.”
The costliest event of the year was major Hurricane Laura. The category 4 storm slammed into coastal Louisiana, doing more than 19 billion dollars of damage.
The fall firestorms in the western U.S. were number two.
Rounding out the top 3 is the August derecho, causing more than 11 billion dollars in damage, and becoming one of the costliest severe storm events in U.S. history.
Smith adds, “All 22 of these events in total were 95 billion dollars – the 4th highest inflation-adjusted cost year on record.”
Even more notable, when you add up the damage costs from the past 5 years, the total exceeds 600 billion dollars. An average of more than 120 billion per year, and part of a worrisome trend.
"The impacts of more exposure, more vulnerability, where we build, how we build are all going in the wrong direction,” said Smith.