Disaster's Cost

January 19, 2018
A COSTLY CLEANUP Massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused about $125 billion in damages.
SCOTT OLSEN—GETTY IMAGES

Monster hurricanes. Raging wildfires. They helped make 2017 the costliest year ever for weather disasters in the United States. The nation was hit by 16 disasters that each topped $1 billion in damages. The 
total cost was $306 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The previous record was set in 2005. It was $215 billion.

NOAA tracks seven disaster types. In 2017, six types occurred. There were “three tropical cyclones, eight severe storms, two inland floods, a crop freeze, drought, and wildfire,” says NOAA’s Adam Smith. Missing? A $1 billion winter storm.

Hurricanes caused the most ruin. Harvey hit Texas in August, causing $125 billion in damages. Irma struck Florida and Puerto Rico, then Maria hit Puerto Rico. The hurricane toll reached $265 billion.

Wildfires seared the West. Losses there totaled $18 billion. Storms swept the upper Midwest. Damages topped $2 billion.

Why is weather becoming so destructive? The population is growing. More people are living in areas prone to floods and fires. “Climate change is also playing an increasing role in the frequency of some types of extreme weather,” Smith says.