The number of environmental disasters in America seems to grow by the year. Many occur during periods on the calendar when they would not be expected. Twenty-four tornadoes ripped through Tennessee and Kentucky on December 10, 2021. Dozens of people were killed and the small city of Mayfield, Kentucky was virtually destroyed. One of these tornadoes may be the most powerful in American history. Tornadoes rarely form in the South during the winter.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear commented on the aftermath of the storm: “The devastation is unlike anything I have seen in my life and I have trouble putting it into words.”
In other environmental disasters, devasting wildfires destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The California Dixie Fire in August was the largest in the state’s history. It burned over 100,000 acres and hundreds of people had to be evacuated from their homes.
In the recently released Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters report, the National Centers for Environmental Administration points out that there have been 310 climate and weather disasters in the United States since 1980. These have cost $2.155 trillion (adjusted for inflation) in total.
Last year was unusually active for events that had an economic cost of over $1 billion, as there were 20 of them. The report shows, “These events included 1 drought event, 2 flooding events, 11 severe storm events, 4 tropical cyclone events, 1 wildfire event, and 1 winter storm event.”
The tracking system looks at both the economic effects and societal effects of these events. The information is partially based on historical data, which includes global temperature changes over time.
Estimating costs can be challenging because a single event can be spread over huge areas, often involving more than one state. The researchers claim they are conservative, so some $1 billion events could be missed. Information for the report came from the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Interagency Fire Center, the U.S. Army Corps. and from regional agencies.
The events are divided into several categories: drought, flooding, freezing, severe storms, cyclones, wildfires and winter storms.
The events in 2021 that cost over $1 billion included Hurricane Ida (August 29 to September 1), the Texas hail storms (April 12 to 15), the western wildfires (much of 2021) and the southeast, central tornado outbreak (December 10).