Sep 12, 2023 - Energy & Environment

NOAA: 2023 worst year on record for billion-dollar disasters

A family looks through the ashes of their home in the aftermath of the Lahaina Fire, western Maui, Hawaii on Aug. 11. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. experienced 23 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the first eight months of 2023 — the largest number since records began.

Driving the news: "With approximately four months still left in the year, 2023 has already surpassed the previous record of 22 events seen in all of 2020," per a statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) accompanying its report on the disasters Monday.

A map of the U.S. plotted with 23 weather and climate disasters each costing $1 billion or more that occurred between January and August, 2023.
A map of the U.S. plotted with 23 weather and climate disasters, each costing $1 billion or more, which occurred between January and August. Image: NOAA/NCEI

By the numbers: The 23 events include:

  • 18 severe weather events.
  • Two flooding events.
  • One tropical cyclone (Hurricane Idalia).
  • One wildfire event.
  • One winter storm event.

Threat level: "These events caused 253 direct and indirect fatalities and produced more than $57.6 billion in damages (Consumer Price Index (CPI)-adjusted)," per NOAA's report.

Zoom in: Among the billion-dollar disasters confirmed this month was Hawai'i's catastrophic wildfires, which have killed at least 115 people. One month on, dozens remain missing.

A map of the U.S. plotted with significant climate events that occurred during August 2023.
A map of the U.S. plotted with significant climate events that occurred during August 2023. Image: NOAA/NCEI

The big picture: The cost and frequency of extreme weather and climate disasters has increased in recent years.

  • Insured losses from catastrophes are rising at a long-term rate of between 5% and 7% per year, insurer Swiss Re noted last month.
  • Thunderstorms have been the costliest type of natural catastrophe for insurers in 2023 as of August.

Thought bubble, via Axios' Andrew Freedman: An increase in the number and cost of disasters likely reflects both trends in extreme weather events and population growth, including in vulnerable areas with certain hazards — such as coastal and other low-lying areas. This latter factor is thought to be more significant to date.

Of note: The U.S. has experienced 371 separate weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages or costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2023), per NOAA.

  • "The total cost of these 371 events exceeds $2.615 trillion."

What we're watching: "Other potential billion-dollar events from 2023 that are still under review include Tropical Storm Hilary that impacted southern California and the Southern/Midwestern drought," according to NOAA.

What they're saying: "These record-breaking numbers, during a year that is on track to be one of the hottest ever, are sobering and the latest confirmation of a worsening trend in costly disasters, many of which bear the undeniable fingerprints of climate change," said Rachel Cletus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement Monday.

  • "The year is far from over, with the busiest part of the hurricane season just getting underway, making it likely that these numbers will climb further," added Cletus, who was not involved in NOAA's report.

Go deeper: The unequal burden of extreme weather and climate disasters

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