Monday, March 27, 2023
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The cost of damage from weather catastrophes is “going down”


This year saw horrific floods that submerged a third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest hurricanes ever recorded in the United States, devastating drought in Europe and China, drought-induced famine in Africa and deadly heatwaves everywhere. Waves.

And yet this was not the worst of climate change.

With the death and destruction expected in 2022, damage from climate change-related disasters is lower than in 2021, according to insurance and disaster giant Swiss Re. The $268 billion in global disaster costs is down 12% from the previous year, when losses exceeded $300,000 million.

The number of weather disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damage in the United States as of October 15 is likely to drop to 16 or 17, up from 22 and 20 in the previous two years, according to the National Bureau of Meteorology. States Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but because of Hurricane Ian, the total number of losses would probably end up in the top three in the nation’s history.

Weather catastrophes – many, but not all, driven by human-caused climate change – happen so frequently that this year’s blizzard, which would have broken records 20 years ago, is now by some measure economic, a small exception compared to recent Looks like years.

Welcome to the new abnormality.

“We have almost become used to the extremes. And this year, compared to many years before, it would be considered a very intense year, but compared to more extreme years like 2017, 2020 and 2021, it seems to be … a slight downward adjustment,” NOAA meteorologists and economists say. Adam Smith, who works for an agency that calculates the multibillion-dollar cost of disasters. “We’re getting used to it, but it’s not a good way to go into the future.”

He says wildfires in the United States this year were not as costly as the previous two years, but the drought in the western part of the country was more damaging than in previous years. Billion-dollar disasters in the United States during 2022 affect every possible category except winter storms: hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, hailstorms, and even a “perfect” : A species of long-duration, broad, straight-line thunderstorm.

In terms of financial damage in 2022 globally and in the United States, Ian, which swept through Florida, takes center stage, even though the Pakistani floods were heavier and deadlier.

In terms of looking only at dollars and not people, Ian’s loss dwarfed the famine induced by the African drought, even though it affected more people. It also dwarfed the decline in river levels in China and Europe, which fell so low that they caused power and industrial problems, and caused unprecedented and deadly heat waves in Europe, India and North America.

Smith points out that NOAA has not yet completed a calculation of the damage caused by Ian, but it is very likely that it has caused more than $100 billion in damage – surpassing 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed New York and New York City. Jersey was flooded – barely below super. The devastating Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Harvey in 2017.

In the 1980s, according to Smith, the United States was faced with a billion-dollar weather disaster every 82 days, which now occurs every 18 days. That’s not the result of inflation, because the loss calculations are adjusted to make the data comparable, he says. This results in a worsening climate and more development, putting people and buildings at risk, he warned.

Globally, “if you look at the last six years, from 2017 to 2022, it has been especially bad compared to the last five years,” says Martin Bertog, head of catastrophe risk at Swiss Re.

“It felt like a regime change, some would say a new normal,” says Bertog. But he believes it was a long-term trend of disaster costs followed by a steadily increasing return of 5-7% per year, followed by a brief respite.

United States envoy against climate change, John Kerry, affirms that the increasing number of disasters justifies the reduction of polluting emissions.

“The money is being spent now because we are not doing what we should be doing,” Kerry said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If we don’t move fast we will end up in much, much harsher conditions than we are now.”

Doesn’t have to be bigger every year. NOAA’s Smith says the United States breathed a sigh of relief in 2019 when there were “just” 14 multibillion-dollar disasters.

Chris Field, director of the environment at Stanford University, who led the 2012 United Nations report on climate change, says, “A growing body of evidence indicates that climate change is increasing variability as well as the rate of weather disasters.” Is”. “What does it mean that some years we get hit harder than others. Other years they hit us like never before.

“The important thing is that the tendency towards disaster is increasing,” Field warns. “And it will continue to increase until we stop the warming.”

Focusing on the cost of damage, mostly covered by damage insurance, can give a skewed picture as the cost of a disaster largely depends on the wealth of the disaster affected area, less the scale of the disaster, Devarti Guha-Sapir warns Ko , director of the Research Center on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

And what’s more important, these figures refer to dollars, not people, and distort the real picture, warn Kristi Eby, Guha-Sapir and professor of health and climate at the University of Washington.

“The total infrastructure covered by the insurance and the number of people killed in Pakistan is a small fraction,” says EB, which understates the estimated amount of damage costs, even if 1,700 people were killed.

The floods in Pakistan, which submerged a third of the country, were not the only thing affecting the developing nation.

“Pakistan just couldn’t catch a break this year. A snowstorm in January killed 23 people, followed by a deadly heat wave in the spring. “The devastating floods from June to October claimed more than 1,700 lives and untold livelihoods,” says Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center on Cape Cod. “Many other surprising, less publicized, and dangerous events wreaked havoc in local communities, such as the sudden collapse of lucrative snow crab farms in the Bering Sea, the rapid disappearance of European glaciers, or the landfall of many coastal towns in Alaska by Tropical Cyclone Merbok.” To flood

“Excess heat in the atmosphere is robbing soils of moisture, exacerbating droughts and heat waves,” Francis warned. “Evaporation from oceans and land also increases the amount of moisture in the air, providing more fuel for heavy storms and downpours,” he says.

Bertog, director of catastrophic risk at Swiss Re, says climate change plays a role, estimating that two-thirds of the increase in losses, perhaps more, is due to more people and property at risk.

Bertog points out that urbanization around the world puts more people in dense environments, which increases losses during times of disaster. Then add to this urban sprawl, which makes cities geographically larger and therefore more vulnerable, he adds. He recalls that a good example of this is how wildfires started damaging more homes in California as more homes were built in rural areas.

In addition, more real estate is being built on coasts and along waterways, making them more vulnerable to storms and flooding, with flooding being the “biggest threat to the world economy,” Bertog says.

Still, NOAA’s Smith continues to look for a small silver lining in the dark clouds: “I hope the trend is a little shallower and less stressful for society. We all need a breather.”


Seth Borenstein is on Twitter as @borenbears


The Associated Press’s climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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