Natural disasters cost U.S. a record $306 billion last year

WASHINGTON -- With three devastating hurricanes, extreme wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather-related disasters: $306 billion. The U.S. had 16 disasters last year with damage exceeding a billion dollars each, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Monday.

That ties 2011 for the number of billion-dollar disasters, but the total cost blew past the previous record of $215 billion in 2005.

Costs are adjusted for inflation and NOAA keeps track of billion-dollar weather disasters going back to 1980. Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history hit last year.

NOAA said the 16 billion-dollar disasters included eight severe storms, three tropical cyclones, two flooding events, one wildfire event, one drought and one freeze event. These events resulted in the deaths of 362 people and had significant economic effects on the areas they affected, the NOAA said.

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NOAA

Hurricane Harvey cost $125 billion, second only to 2005's Katrina, while Hurricane Maria, which slammed Puerto Rico, cost $90 billion, ranking third, the NOAA said. Irma was a $50 billion storm, the fifth most expensive hurricane in U.S. history. 

Western wildfires fanned by hot, dry conditions racked up $18 billion in damage, triple the previous U.S. wildfire record, according to the NOAA.

"While we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to show that some of today's extremes have climate change fingerprints on them," said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society.

NOAA announced its figures at the society's annual conference in Austin, Texas.

The weather agency also said that 2017 was the third hottest year in U.S. records for the Lower 48 states, with an annual temperature average of 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 12.6 degrees Celsius -- 2.6 degrees higher than the 20th century average. Only 2012 and 2016 were warmer. The five warmest years for the Lower 48 states have all happened since 2006. 

This was the third straight year that all 50 states had above-average temperatures for the year. Five states -- Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Mexico -- had their warmest year ever. Temperature records go back to 1895.

NOAA says 2017 was the second-warmest year on record worldwide.