This year has been the most disastrous weather and climate year on record - and it’s not even over yet.
The California Department of Insurance just announced that losses incurred from the October wildfires exceeds 3 billion dollars, and is expected to rise even further. That has now become the sixteenth billion-dollar disaster in the United States this year, tying the 16 from 2011.
The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) says that these billion-dollar disasters are on the rise.
Mother Nature has cost Americans more than a trillion dollars since 1980 according to the NCEI database, that lists all the country's billion-dollar disasters since 1980, including tropical cyclones, severe weather, floods, droughts, freezes, wildfires, and winter storms.
Colorado is no stranger to billion-dollar disasters. In May of this year, a severe storm dropped baseball size hail across the Denver metro area causing $1.5 billion in damage. The total damage across five states was $2.2 billion.
That is the only billion-dollar disaster for our state this year, which is the least amount since 2010 when Colorado had no disasters of that caliber. However, the country as a whole is seeing a rise in weather and climate disasters.
The NCEI database shows 6 years with 10 or more billion-dollar disasters since 1980. All six have occurred in the last 9 years. The damage estimates are adjusted to reflect inflation.
Colorado State Climatologist, Dr. Russ Schumacher says an important factor to the rising trend of weather and climate disasters is simply the rise in population and material wealth in the U.S., and also points out that vulnerable areas like coastlines and river flood plains have high concentrations of that wealth and infrastructure. Those areas are susceptible to tropical cyclones and flooding, two of the three costliest disasters.
NCEI also identifies global warming and climate change as contributing factors for the rise in disasters.
Schumacher says that climate scientists are currently researching the impact of climate change on individual severe weather events. He says the theory they are working under, is that a warmer atmosphere can have more water vapor in it, and can lead to heavier rainfall.
That could also explain why the United States is experiencing more frequent non-tropical inland flooding. The NCEI says there have been four billion-dollar inland flooding disasters this year, more than double the previous record.
The state of Colorado has been involved in two billion-dollar floods in the past 4 years. One in May of 2015, which was focused in Oklahoma, and Texas, but impacted much of southern Colorado as well. Another in September of 2013, which caused $1.6 billion in damage.
The NCEI says Colorado has been part of 40 billion-dollar disasters since 1980, and we’ve had every type of weather and climate disaster except for a tropical cyclone, and believe it or not, a winter storm. Nine of the top 10 most costly disasters that Colorado has been part of, have been droughts.