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2012 May Rank As 2nd Most Disastrous Year Since 1980

With about six weeks remaining in the year, there have already been 11 natural disasters that have cost $1 billion or more in damage, bringing 2012 to second place on the list of top billion-dollar disaster years. The current record-holder is 2011, when there were 14 billion-dollar disasters. The widespread and intense drought — which as of Nov. 6 still covered at least 60 percent of the lower 48 states — and Hurricane Sandy are expected to go down in history as two of the most costly weather-related disasters since 1980.

Photo of coastal flooding in Mantoloking, N.J., taken from an Air National Guard helicopter.
Credit: NJNG/Scott Anema.

The drought alone is expected to cut economic growth by up to 1 percentage point this year, largely due to drops in farm inventories, according to a Bloomberg News report. The last drought that was of comparable intensity occurred in 1988, and it resulted in nearly $40 billion in damages.

The statistics for this year so far are preliminary, and come from news accounts and insurance industry estimates. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which issues the official numbers, has opted to only release the final figures when they are available, rather than keep a running tally as they have done in previous years.

The 11 Billion-Dollar Disasters in 2012
Date Type  Location Damage
Estimates
March
2-3
Severe 
Weather
Midwest 4+
billion
April 
2-4
Severe
Weather
Texas 1.3+
billion
April 
13-15
Severe
Weather
Plains, Midwest 1.75+
billion
April 
28-29
Severe
Weather
Midwest 3.25+
billion
May 
25-30
Severe
Weather
Plains, Midwest,
Northeast
2.5+
billion
June 1-
Sept. 30
Drought U.S. **Billions+
June 
6-7
Severe
Weather
Colorado,
Wyoming
1.6+
billion
June 
11-13
Severe
Weather
Texas,
New Mexico
1.75+
billion
June 28-
July 2
Severe
Weather
Midwest,
Mid-Atlantic,
Plains
3.75+
billion
Aug.
26 - 31
Hurricane
Isaac
Gulf Coast 2+
billion
October
27-31
Hurricane
Sandy 
Northeast 50+
billion

** No official estimates available as of yet
Credit: AON Benfield except for Hurricane Sandy which is
early estimates based on news reports

According to AON Benfield, a reinsurance company that provides forecasts about the total losses from extreme weather events and other disasters, there were 10 disasters with losses of $1 billion or more through the end of September. But that tally was made before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coast on Oct. 29, causing at least $50 billion in damage with some estimates putting the final tally much higher than that.

As was the case in 2011, most of the billion-dollar events consist of severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreaks, including a tornado outbreak in early March that caused $4 billion or more in damage, according to AON Benfield.

Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall in southeast Louisiana in late August, cost at least $2 billion, the company’s report said.

Disaster loss data can reflect the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather and climate events, but socioeconomic factors, such as population growth and coastal development, for example, also influence the data. In addition, historical data on billion-dollar disasters can be biased based on how one adjusts for inflation, and NOAA has been scrutinizing its data closely in the wake of criticism in 2011.

Objective measures of weather and climate phenomena, such as the drought and Hurricane Sandy, show that these events were extraordinary in the context of meteorological history. The Climate Extremes Index, which measures precipitation and temperature extremes across the U.S., was at its second-highest level for the year through the end of October, according to NOAA. The Climate Extremes Index was at 38 percent during the January-through-October period, meaning that 38 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent extremes in temperature, precipitation, and drought during that period. That was about twice the typical value for the period. 

Related Links
How Global Warming Made Hurricane Sandy Worse 
Ongoing Coverage of Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy Paralyzes New York, New Jersey 
Ongoing Coverage of Historic Drought in U.S. 
Ongoing Coverage of Earth's Polar Regions
Drought Still Afflicting Nearly 60 Percent of U.S.

Comments

By Mary E Harte (94708)
on November 14th, 2012

How do the stats line up for the year racking up the most costs from climate change to date?

2012 looks like it is, by far and away, the costliest year so far,  in terms of total US costs of damage from climate change, when you add up the many billions in damage from both the US drought AND Hurricane Sandy…..  and the economic bottom line is what people will feel most…

Reply to this comment

By Windy
on November 27th, 2012

Would lower CO2 below 350 PPM have prevented this? No. In fact if the 1926 Miami hurricane were to revisit Miami today the damage would be $170 billion. There is zero evidence that climate change is increasing loss damage from storms. It is the expansion of wealth and population in high risk storm locations that is the cause of increased loss damage cost. Lowering CO2 will do nothing in the 21st century to alter this whereas reduce wealth and population growth in high risk locations would. The alternative is to create surge barriers and storm proof these high risk areas to a much higher degree. We need to also look at the insanity of providing government subsidized insurance to wealthy individuals that choose to knowingly live in harms way on the sea shores. Why should the middle class pay for the rich to live on the coasts? Unless you punish behavior that increases loss damage costs you will see a continued growth of wealthy people and developers continuing to build expensive homes and commercial properties in dangerous locations.

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