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2022 racked up 165 billion dollars in disaster damages—the third costliest year on record

Flagler County Government
A portion of SR-A1A in Flagler Beach destroyed during Hurricane Nicole.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual U.S. Climate assessment Tuesday at the 103rd Annual American Meteorological Society Meeting in Denver, Colorado. From hurricanes to tornados, winter storms to wildfires, the U.S. experienced 18 unique billion-dollar disasters in 2022 totaling $165 billion. That’s the third costliest year on record, behind 2017 and 2005.

This is also the eight-consecutive year where the U.S. experienced ten or more billion-dollar disasters.

Out of all 50 states, Florida ranked first in damages with $116 billion attributed to the Sunshine State alone. It’s also the most expensive year for Florida in the 42-year history of the billion-dollar disaster report. Florida is the second-leading state in total costs across all years, behind Texas.

Tropical cyclone events tend to be the costliest out of all categories of disaster. Since 1980, five hurricanes to impact Florida have produced over $50 billion in damages: Andrew, Charley, Wilma, Irma and Michael. But Hurricane Ian was the first to exceed $100 billion in losses, easily leading Florida to the top of the list this year. Ian is estimated to be the third costliest hurricane in history, behind Harvey and Katrina.

This year also saw an unusual pacing to hurricane season. Though the hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30, tropical systems rarely make landfall late into the season. Hurricane Nicole became the first hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. during the month of November in over 40 years.

NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad spoke at AMS’ meeting before Karin Gleason and Adam Smith from the National Centers for Environmental Information presented this year’s findings.

“It is a reality,” Spinrad said in his opening, “regardless of where you live in the country, that you experienced an extreme weather event.”

Wildfires scorched the West while hailstorms and severe weather hit the Midwest. Kentucky and Missouri experienced severe flooding in the summer, while southeastern states saw an outbreak of tornados in the spring. Hurricane Fiona, Ian and Nicole all impacted Puerto Rico, Florida and South Carolina. Finally, a line of winter storms engulfed much of the east coast in December.

On top of it all, widespread drought was observed across the country, through particularly concentrated in the West. We saw the peak in October, with 63% of the country experiencing drought conditions. 40% or more of the contiguous U.S. has been in drought conditions for the last 119 weeks, a record in the 22-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Nationwide, 2022 ranked as the 27th driest and the 18th hottest year on record.

474 deaths were unfortunately attributed to these 18 events. It’s the eighth deadliest year since NOAA began recording billion-dollar events in 1980.

Spinrad underlined the gravity of these findings by looking to the future.

“My goal is to build a climate ready nation by 2030,” Spinrad said.

Growing populations in climate vulnerable states may make things more difficult in years to come. According to U.S. Census population estimates for 2022, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida all showed positive growth.

Smith, the lead author of the billion-dollar disaster report, said many factors go into determining an event’s price tag, including residential, business, infrastructure and vehicular damage.

Increasingly stronger tropical storms and hurricanes, and a growing number of people and property in harm’s way, move these trends in a “challenging direction.”

With Florida now the fastest growing state in the nation, emergency managers, meteorologists, and other public officials are tasked with readying newcomers and longtime residents alike for the next destructive event.

“We must adapt and become resilient to climate risks we cannot avoid,” said Spinrad.