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Weather Fury: The 18 billion-dollar weather disasters of 2021

NOAA recently determined that the United States experienced a record 18 weather disasters during the first nine months of 2021.

WASHINGTON — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently determined that the United States experienced 18 weather disasters during the first nine months of 2021, each of which caused at least one billion dollars in damages. 

The total cost of these disasters was in excess of $104 billion in damages. Hurricane Ida was the costliest natural disaster of 2021, with an estimated $60 billion price tag, making it one of the five costliest hurricanes in U.S. history.

September 2021 was a particularly destructive weather month for the United States, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). 

Four of the 18 billion-dollar weather disasters occurred last month. They include flooding from Hurricane Ida, Hurricane Nicolas’ landfall in Texas, and continuing wildfires and drought conditions across much of the West. Some of the other billion-dollar weather disasters NOAA cited occurred earlier in 2021. They include widespread flooding and severe weather in California in January, as well as a record winter storm and cold wave in February that was particularly destructive in Texas.

The United States is a large and geographically diverse country with weather-related disasters that are unique to different regions of the country. 

NOAA has tracked billion-dollar weather events since 1980, with the existing record for most in a given calendar year being 22 in 2020. 

The 22 billion-dollar weather disasters last year shattered the previous record of 16 that occurred twice previously in 2011 and 2017. With 18 through the end of September, 2021 could break last year’s record.

This trend of increased number and frequency of billion-dollar weather disasters in recent years has multiple causes. It’s easier now for extreme weather to be more destructive since the U.S. population and amount of development in coastal areas has never been larger, but that’s only part of the story. 

Inflation also plays a role. For example, while Hurricane Ida cost in excess of $60 billion in 2021, the same storm impacting the same areas would have caused only $29 billion in damages in 1990, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Also, according to NOAA: “…climate change is increasing the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters.”

These events underscore the importance of listening to your local authorities and meteorologists, such as those on the WUSA9 Weather Team, when threatening weather is in the forecast. By being informed, you can take the necessary steps to ensure your personal safety and minimize the risk of damage to your property.

Track the latest changes on the Drought Monitor Index here. 

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