A disastrous hurricane season combined with wildfires and other extreme weather events inflicted a record-setting toll on the U.S. in 2017, with 16 billion-dollar weather and climate events costing a total of $306 billion in damage. These events caused 362 direct deaths.
These figures come from a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released on Monday morning.
The previous costliest year for the U.S. was 2005, when losses totaled $215 billion, largely due to the three major hurricane strikes of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
The number of billion-dollar events tied 2011 for the most such disasters in a single year. The Western wildfire season alone, which scorched California in particular, cost at least $18 billion, NOAA said, tripling the previous record annual wildfire toll.
Hurricane Harvey, which caused the most extreme rainstorm ever observed in the U.S., had total costs of $125 billion, just behind Hurricane Katrina in the 38-year period of record for billion-dollar disasters. Insurance companies are still tallying the damage for some of these events, so these costs may yet rise further.
Hurricanes Maria and Irma had total costs of $90 billion and $50 billion, respectively, and Hurricane Maria, which demolished Puerto Rico’s power grid, ranks as the third-costliest weather and climate disaster on record for the nation.
The spike in costs for 2017 may have some link to global warming, since numerous recent studies have found that extreme heat, wildfire, and rainfall events are becoming more likely and more severe due to climate change. This could, in turn, make such disasters more expensive, depending on how vulnerable the impacted areas. However, NOAA did not make a determination on global warming’s role in billion-dollar disasters for this report.