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Extreme weather caused $165 billion in damage last year, NOAA says

It was the third-costliest year on record, highlighting the enormous economic and societal toll of extreme events that are expected to intensify because of climate change.
A firefighter battles the Fairview Fire near Hemet, Calif., on Sept. 5.Ethan Swope / AP file

The U.S. experienced 18 extreme weather events last year that each caused at least $1 billion in damage, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Weather and climate disasters across the country resulted in more than $165 billion in damage in 2022, making it the third-costliest year on record, NOAA officials said. The new figures highlight the enormous economic and societal toll of droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, severe storms and other extreme events that are expected to intensify due to climate change.

Last year’s major disasters included three hurricanes, spring tornado outbreaks over the South and Southeast, wildfires in the western U.S., widespread drought, flooding in Kentucky and Missouri over the summer, and a spate of severe storms across the country. Nearly every region of the U.S. experienced at least one billion-dollar event in 2022, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said.

“It is a reality that regardless of where you are in the country, where you call home, you’ve likely experienced a high-impact weather event firsthand,” Spinrad said Tuesday in a briefing at the annual American Meteorological Society conference in Denver.

Despite a slow start to last year's hurricane season, three storms resulted in at least $1 billion in damage: Hurricane Fiona, Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole.

Hurricane Ian, which slammed into southwestern Florida in late September and caused widespread destruction, resulted in nearly $113 billion in damage, the report found. This made it the third-costliest U.S. hurricane on record, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Earlier in September, Hurricane Fiona devastated parts of Puerto Rico after heavy rains caused severe flooding on the island. Hurricane Nicole, a late-season storm, became the first hurricane to hit the U.S. in November in nearly 40 years. The hurricane made landfall along Florida’s eastern coast, knocking out power and flooding coastal communities.

Drought remained a big issue last year, fueling cascading impacts such as wildfires, crop losses and heat waves across the western U.S., according to NOAA. The report estimated that last year’s was one of the more costly droughts on record, causing an estimated $22.2 billion in damage.

Dry conditions were also extensive in 2022, said Karin Gleason, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

“Drought impacted much of the western half of the U.S. for a majority of the year, with many major reservoirs at or near record low levels,” she said.

Gleason added that at least 40% of the lower 48 states has been in drought for the past 119 weeks, which is approaching twice the previous record of 68 consecutive weeks.

In calculating damage, NOAA researchers used data from insurance and property claim services, state agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The report covered direct losses of insured and uninsured assets, such as damage to residential, commercial and government buildings; loss of contents within buildings; damage to public infrastructure; agricultural losses (including loss of crops and livestock); and “time element losses” that include loss of operating time for businesses.

NOAA’s findings offer a glimpse of the major toll that extreme weather events are already having and the country’s vulnerability to climate disasters in the future. Studies have shown that global warming will worsen drought and wildfires and fuel more intense storms and hurricanes.

Many negative outcomes are also compounded because of climate change, as was the case in 2022 in Florida, said Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at the National Centers for Environmental Information.

“The impacts from Hurricane Ian came through, and then weeks later Hurricane Nicole hit many of the same towns and counties that were in the middle of trying to clean up,” he said, adding that the overlap of the disasters “makes recovery more costly and also slower and more challenging.”

NOAA began tracking the economic and societal impacts of weather and climate disasters in 1980. Since then, the U.S. has experienced 341 separate billion-dollar events, totaling more than $2.47 trillion in damage.