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2017 and 2018 were costliest ever years for natural disasters

Billion-dollar natural disasters on the rise

Taken together, 2017 and 2018 were the costliest years for weather-related disasters on record, with total losses of $653 billion, according to a new analysis 

This year's devastating hurricanes in the U.S. -- Florence, which hit the Carolinas in September and Michael, which roared through the Florida Panhandle the following month -- cost $15 billion and $17 billion, respectively, professional services firm Aon said in a report that evaluates the impact of natural disasters. But they were dwarfed by 2017's Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston and resulted in losses of $125 billion. 

Hurricanes were only part of the natural disaster landscape described by Aon. In the past year alone there were typhoons in Japan and East Asia, flooding in Japan and China and drought in Central Europe. All told, the company tallied 394 significant natural catastrophes in 2018, costing a total of $225 billion. 

Fourth-warmest year since 1880

The two-year whammy indicates that worse might come as the world's climate continues to change, with Aon meteorologist Steve Bowen noting that "catastrophe risks continue to evolve." 

Among the causes raising those risks: shifts in population to vulnerable locations such as low-lying shorelines, as well as a changing -- and warming -- climate that is "contributing to more volatile weather patterns," Aon said.

Dating back to 1880, 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, according to the report. 

Potential economic impact of climate change on businesses

Bowen might also have been referring to California, where drought, heat, high winds and untamed brush caused the state's "deadliest and most destructive fire on record," according to Aon. The Camp Fire destroyed nearly 19,000 homes and other structures in Paradise, California, killing 88 people and resulting in $15 billion in losses. That and other California conflagrations charred 1.8 million acres in the state, a record.

There was some good news in Aon's report. While 10,000 people died in natural disasters around the world in 2018, that loss of life ranked well below the average,. "2018 ranks among the lowest disaster-related fatality totals since 1950," the company concluded.