Jan 25, 2023 - Energy & Environment

California flooding causes billions in economic losses, estimates show

Data: National Weather Service;  Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The recent California flooding and severe weather led to $5 billion to $7 billion in total U.S. economic losses, according to new estimates from Moody’s.

The big picture: The estimates show the wide-ranging impact of the historic weather that crippled California with floods, heavy snow and massive rainfall.

Details: The multi-billion dollar estimate focused on flood impacts for the United States and includes damage to infrastructure caused by the atmospheric river storms that kicked off at the end of December, Moody’s said.

  • The estimate is based on event reconstruction and reflects property damage and interruption to business “across residential, commercial, industrial, automobile and infrastructure assets," according to Moody's.
  • Moody’s also estimates somewhere between $500 million and $1.5 billion in insured losses, which include any losses to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the private flood insurance market.

Worth noting: A "relatively small proportion" of the economic damage will be covered by insurance because less than 2% of California households have flood insurance, Moody's said.

Catch up quick: In late December, strong low pressure areas combined with a series of prolific atmospheric rivers washed through California, leading to heavy rainfall, overtopped rivers, flash floods, mudslides and heavy snow in high-altitude areas. Residents were evacuated from their homes.

  • The rainfall and severe storms set daily rainfall records and some areas "received their annual average rainfall totals in less than one month," Moody's said.

The massive storm damaged highways and roads, as well as power networks. Cars and properties were shattered from the storms as trees were uprooted by the fast-moving winds.

  • Officials warned it could take weeks to clean up some areas.

Our thought bubble via Axios' Andrew Freedman: The wet season in California still has another two months to go, and any repetitive and strong storms could prove highly problematic.

  • At the same time, if West Coast storms shut off completely, it could set up the summer for precarious wildfire conditions, since so much vegetation will have grown from the record-setting precipitation so far.

Go deeper: Atmospheric rivers force California to manage floods during drought

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