2021 was another catastrophic and deadly year for weather and climate disasters in the USA, federal scientists announced Monday. There were 20 separate disasters that each cost at least $1 billion in damage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.
Overall, the U.S. disaster cost for 2021 exceeded $145 billion, which is the third-highest cost on record.
It was also a deadly year: At least 688 Americans died in disasters. That's the most disaster-related fatalities for the contiguous USA since 2011 and more than double last year’s number of 262.
The deaths were mostly the result of extreme summer heat in the Pacific Northwest, extreme cold across the South during the February freeze, Hurricane Ida across many states and the December tornado outbreak in the South, according to NOAA.
The 20 events mark the second-highest total on record, two events shy of the 2020 record of 22 events, NOAA said.
WEATHER DISASTERS IN 2021: How the US was walloped by weather in 2021.
The disasters of 2021 include eight severe weather events, four tropical cyclone events, three tornado outbreaks, two flooding events, one drought/heat wave event, one winter storm/cold wave event and one wildfire event, which includes the devastating Marshall Fire on Dec. 30 in Boulder County, Colorado.
“It was a tough year. Climate change has taken a shotgun approach to hazards across the country,” said NOAA climatologist and economist Adam Smith, who compiles billion-dollar weather disasters for NOAA.
Scientists have long said human-caused climate change makes extreme weather nastier and more frequent, documenting numerous links to wild and deadly weather events.
Some experts not affiliated with the report also put the blame squarely on climate change for the severity of the year's weather disasters: “The sobering power of NOAA’s annual data on billion-dollar disasters highlights a worsening and undeniable trend," said Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This report underscores the reality of how the climate crisis is already affecting people’s lives and the economy with every region of the country having been affected."
Jonathan Overpeck, dean of environmental studies at the University of Michigan, who wasn’t part of the NOAA report, said, “That’s exactly what I’d expect with climate change because climate change is essentially supercharging many types of extreme weather, making heat waves, droughts, wildfires, intense rainfall, flooding and storms more severe, destructive and deadly."
Though 2020 set the record for the most billion-dollar disasters, in 2021, “the extremes seemed a bit more profound than in 2020,” Smith said.
NOAA released its 2021 climate report for the nation Monday, which showed the fourth-warmest year on record.
Several cities had their hottest years, including Akron, Ohio; Baltimore; Bismarck, North Dakota; Boston; Buffalo, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee; Montpelier, Vermont; Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; and Toledo, Ohio.
A freakishly warm December – the USA's hottest on record – wrapped up the year, NOAA said.
Also Monday, a report from the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, said that in 2021, America’s emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases rebounded from the first year of the pandemic at a faster rate than the economy as a whole, making it harder to reach the country’s pledge to the world to cut emissions in half compared with 2005 by 2030.
Greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal have caused global temperatures to rise to levels that cannot be explained from natural causes, scientists say.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Weather disasters broke records and killed over 600 Americans in 2021
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