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Extreme weather and climate disasters cost the U.S. billions in 2019, NOAA reports

Extreme weather cost the U.S. billions in 2019
Extreme weather cost the U.S. billions in 201... 04:14

The United States experienced another year of extreme weather in 2019, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual U.S. climate assessment. While cold extremes and unusually heavy rains hit the central U.S., heat swelled across the Southeast and it was the warmest year on record in Alaska.

It was also an above-average year for weather- and climate-related damage, with losses totaling $45 billion nationwide. That compares to an average of $43.9 billion a year, adjusted for inflation, over the past 40 years.

NOAA said there were 14 weather and climate disasters in 2019 that caused financial losses exceeding $1 billion apiece. These billion-dollar-plus disasters included eight severe storm events, three flooding events, two tropical cyclone events, and one wildfire.

The total cost of U.S. billion-dollar disasters over the last five years, from 2015 to 2019, exceeds $525 billion, with a five-year annual cost average of $106.3 billion, both of which are records. Even after adjusting for inflation, the U.S. experienced more than twice the number of billion-dollar disasters during the 2010s, when compared to the 2000s.

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NOAA

The 2019 U.S. Climate Extremes Index, which tracks unusual highs and lows in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones, was 14% above average and ranked in the upper third of the 110-year record.

Last year's extremes included annual rainfall that was 4.84 inches above average, creating the second wettest year on record in the U.S. It was also a top-five year for tornadoes, with over 1,500 reported across the country.

In the spring, historic rainfall and flooding devastated the Midwest, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, including flooded farmland.

"Record precipitation fell across the northern Plains, Great Lakes and portions of the central Plains," according to the report. "Ten of the last twelve 12-month periods were record wet with the top seven all-time wettest 12-month periods occurring during 2019."

The Hawaiian islands had one of their warmest years on record. Cities on the islands of Maui and Kauai experienced record high temperatures, while Honolulu, on the Big Island, tied with 1995 for its warmest year on record. The heat was influenced by warm ocean temperatures, according to the report.

A "bomb cyclone" — a blizzard of epic proportions — hit the Midwest in early spring, triggering significant river flooding. According to the report, the combined cost of the river flooding ($20 billion) which affected Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi, made up almost half of the total cost of all U.S. weather and climate events in 2019.

The high cost was part of a growing trend. Throughout the past decade, there has been an increasing number of billion-dollar inland flooding events.

In September, Tropical Storm Imelda dropped an astounding 40 inches of rain in Texas — soaking many of the same areas that were hit hard by Hurricane Harvey two years prior — and Louisiana. A second tropical system, Hurricane Dorian, which decimated the Bahamas, was a much less impactful system when it reached the U.S. coast.

NOAA and NASA will release their joint global climate assessment on January 15.

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