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Record Damage from Disasters in 2017

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2017 was a record year for disasters, and in contrast to recent years, the disasters were focused on the United States.

Worldwide losses from disasters summed to$330 billion in 2017, of which only $135 billion was insured, according to a report from Munich Re, an international reinsurance company. Only one other year has seen greater losses: 2011, when the Tohoku earthquake in Japan led to the devastating tsunami and the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor. The 2017 total was almost double the average loss over the previous 10 years, even adjusting for inflation ($170 billion). (Except as noted below, data from Munich Re 2017. This is a press release from an insurance company. I generally regard peer-reviewed scientific studies, and government report to be more reliable sources. However, it will be some time before those sources report on this data. So think of these numbers as preliminary data that may undergo some revision.)

The total number of disasters numbered 710, an increase from the 10-year average of 605. In 2017, approximately 10,000 people lost their lives to disasters, which is considerably lower than the 10-year average of 60,000.

The United States accounted for 50% of the losses, compared to the long-term average of 32%, and taking a wider view, North America accounted for 83% of them. The major disasters striking the USA and North America were weather related in 2017 (in contrast to the Tohoku earthquake, which was not). Think back through the year, and quite a list comes to mind:

  • Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 26, and devastated the region. With losses summing to approximately $85 billion, it was the costliest disaster of 2017.
  • On September 5, Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane ever in the open Atlantic, began blowing a swath of destruction through the Caribbean before crossing the Florida Keys, then traveling south-to-north up the Florida Peninsula. Insured losses were $32 billion, uninsured losses are not yet known.
  • Hurricane Maria, the second Category 5 hurricane to clobber the Caribbean in 2 weeks, slammed into Dominica on September 18, before totally devastating Puerto Rico. Total losses have not yet been calculated, but as of this writing, almost 3 months later, more than 1/4 of the island of Puerto Rico remains without electricity. (StatusPR 1/8/2018)
  • Terrible wildfires swept across North America in 2017. The National Interagency Fire Center has not yet posted summary statistics for the year. However, InciWeb indicates that the largest were two fires in Oklahoma: the Northwest Oklahoma Complex, at 779,292 acres, and the Starbuck Fire, at 623,000 acres. Eleven other fires consumed over 100,000 acres. Of course, the ones that grabbed the headlines were in California. In October, 250 wildfires ignited across Northern California, burning over 245,000 acres and causing more than $9.4 billion in damage; 44 people were killed and 8,900 structures were destroyed. In December, a new round of fires broke out north of Los Angeles and East of Santa Barbara. More than 230,000 people were forced to evacuate, over 1,300 structures were destroyed, and 307,900 acres were consumed. (Inciweb, Wikipedia, 2018).
  • During the Spring, a series of severe thunderstorms with accompanying tornadoes and hail, caused insured losses of over $1 billion. These included record floods across Southern Missouri, as 8-12 inches of rain fell over 48 hours in some areas. (National Weather Service 2017)
  • In Asia, some 2,700 people lost their lives due to flooding resulting from an extremely severe monsoon season. In some districts, 3/4 of the territory was under water.

The fires that struck California were unprecedented, and yet, the acres burned by the fires in Oklahoma were more than 5 times larger. The devastation wrought by the hurricanes was beyond imagination – whole islands were virtually destroyed.

As reported many times in this blog, weather conditions play a role in hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. While my reviews have indicated that damage from weather-related disasters is highly variable from year-to-year, there has also been a clear trend toward more damage. While humans play a role by living in harms way, climate change does, too.

The report from Munich Re includes the following statement: “A key point is that some of the catastrophic events…are giving us a foretaste of what is to come. Because even though individual events cannot be directly traced to climate change, our experts expect such extreme weather to occur more often in the future.” (p.2)

More detailed information on disasters and severe weather events in Missouri and the USA will become available later in the year. The next post will look at 2017 summary weather patterns in Missouri and across the USA.

Sources:

InciWeb, Incident Information System. This is the portal for an interagency information management system. Data was viewed online 1/8/2018 at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov.

Munich Re. 2018. Natural Catastrophe Review: Series of Hurricanes Makes 2017 Year of Highest Insured Losses Ever. Press release downloaded 1/5/2018 from https://www.munichre.com/en/media-relations/publications/press-releases/2018/2018-01-04-press-release/index.html.

National Weather Service. 2017. Historic Flooding Event — 28-30 April 2017. Viewed online 1/8/2018 at https://www.weather.gov/sgf/28-30AprilHistoricFloodingEvent.

StatusPR. Website viewed online 1/8/2018 at http://status.pr.

Wikipedia. 2018. 2017 California Fires. Downloaded 1/8/2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_California_wildfires.


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