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New Data Confirms the Staggering Costs of U.S. Weather/Climate Disasters

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Last week NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released updated data on U.S. weather/climate disasters from 1980-2011, which show that total losses for the period exceeded $880 billion. Since 1980 there have been 134 disasters where overall costs were $1 billion or more. In 2011 alone, there were 14 “billion dollar” disasters that led to 764 deaths and costs of over $60 billion!

Looking at a map of these disasters, it’s clear that no part of the country has gone unscathed, with the southern and eastern parts of the country particularly hard hit. Severe storms, tropical cyclones, drought and flooding are among the most frequent and costly types of events.

Source: NOAA

The record number of extreme weather events in 2011 clearly underscores our need to be better prepared and more resilient to the effects of climate change that are already underway, as well as take aggressive steps to cut the emissions that are causing climate change.

Many of these disasters are typical of what we might expect to see with a changing climate. While no single event can be attributed directly to climate change, the odds are that climate change is “loading the dice”. For example, scientists doing research in the emerging area of climate attribution say that it is unlikely that extreme events such as the Texas heat wave of 2011, the Moscow heat wave and Pakistan flooding of 2010, and the European heat wave of 2003 would have occurred in the absence of human-caused climate change.

A recent UCS report, The Hidden Health Risks of Flooding in a Warming World, shows that the number of heavy precipitation events in the United States has increased by more than 30 percent since 1900—and the problem will likely grow worse in the coming years, leaving more and more Americans vulnerable to the immediate and lingering health impacts of flood events.

The 2011 drought in Texas cost the state nearly $8 billion in crop and livestock losses, making it the most costly drought in the history of the state. And there is a real fear that 2012 could see a repeat of similar conditions in many parts of the state.

Undoubtedly, the human and economic toll of climate change will be enormous if we continue on our current path of inaction. Do you think we can have a reasoned, bipartisan national conversation around this critical issue during this election year? What do you think it will take to break through the current impasse?

Posted in: Global Warming

About the author: Rachel Cleetus is an expert on the design and economic evaluation of climate and energy policies, as well as the costs of climate change. She holds a Ph.D. in economics. See Rachel's full bio.

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