New abnormal: Climate disaster damage ‘down’ to $268 billion

Dec 8, 2022, 1:38 PM | Updated: Dec 13, 2022, 1:27 pm
FILE - Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan's southwester...

FILE - Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, Aug. 30, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Zahid Hussain, File)

(AP Photo/Zahid Hussain, File)

              FILE - A man sits in the sun at Carcavelos beach, outside Lisbon, Friday, July 8, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)
            
              FILE - A road ends where floodwaters washed away a house in Gardiner, Mont., June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
            
              FILE - Children walk in an area impacted by the drought near the Solimoes River, in Tefe, Amazonas state, Brazil, Oct. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Edmar Barros, File)
            
              FILE - Cracked earth is visible at a tributary leading into the dried arid stretch of the Poyang Lake in north-central China's Jiangxi province on Oct. 31, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
            
              FILE - A youth runs over what remains of the glacier, that lost most of its volume during the last years, on top of the Zugspitze mountain near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, June 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)
            
              FILE - A Somali woman and child wait to be given a spot to settle at a camp for displaced people amid a drought on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia on Sept. 20, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
            
              FILE - The bridge leading from Fort Myers to Pine Island, Fla., is seen heavily damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Pine Island, Fla., Oct. 1, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
            
              FILE - Somalis who have been displaced due to drought settle at a camp on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia, Sept. 19, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
            
              FILE - A boy cools off in a public fountain in Vilnius, Lithuania, June 26, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis, File)
            
              FILE - A goose walks across a dried bed of Lake Velence in Velence, Hungary, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi, File)
            
              FILE - Mari Carmen Zambrano poses for a photo on her broken and wet bed as she dries it outside her home that lost its roof to Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
            
              FILE - A firefighter extinguishes flames as the Oak Fire crosses Darrah Rd. in Mariposa County, Calif., on July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
            
              FILE - Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, Aug. 30, 2022. This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over. (AP Photo/Zahid Hussain, File)

This past year has seen a horrific flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, one of the three costliest U.S. hurricanes on record, devastating droughts in Europe and China, a drought-triggered famine in Africa and deadly heat waves all over.

Yet this wasn’t climate change at its worst.

With all that death and destruction in 2022, climate-related disaster damages are down from 2021, according to insurance and catastrophe giant Swiss Re. That’s the state of climate change in the 2020s that $268 billion in global disaster costs is a 12% drop from the previous year, where damage passed $300 billion.

The number of U.S. weather disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damage is only at 15 through October and will likely end the year with 16 or 17, down from 22 and 20 in the last two years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But because of Hurricane Ian, overall damage amounts are probably going to end up in the top three in American history.

Weather disasters, many but not all of them turbocharged by human-caused climate change, are happening so frequently that this year’s onslaught, which 20 years ago would have smashed records by far, now in some financial measures seems a bit of a break from recent years.

Welcome to the new abnormal.

“We’ve almost gotten used to extremes. And this year compared to many years in the past would be considered a pretty intense year, but compared to maybe the most extreme years, like a 2017, 2020 and 2021, it does look like … a slight adjustment down,” said NOAA applied meteorologist and economist Adam Smith, who calculates the billion dollar disasters for the agency. “We’re just getting used to it but that’s not a good way to move into the future.”

Wildfires in the United States weren’t as costly this year as the last couple years, but the Western drought was more damaging than previous years, he said. America’s billion dollar disasters in 2022 seemed to hit every possible category except winter storms: hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, hail storms and even a derecho.

When it comes to 2022’s financial damages globally and the United States, Ian, which walloped Florida, was the big dog, even though Pakistan’s flooding was more massive and deadly. In terms of just looking at dollars not people, Ian’s damages eclipsed the drought-triggered African famine that affected more people. It also overshadowed river levels in China and Europe that dropped to levels so low it caused power and industrial problems and the heat waves in Europe,India and North America that were deadly and record-breaking.

Smith said NOAA hasn’t finished calculating the damages from Ian yet, but there’s a good chance it will have more than $100 billion in damage, pushing past 2012’s Superstorm Sandy that swamped New York and New Jersey, ranking only behind 2005’s Katrina and 2017’s Harvey for damaging hurricanes.

In the 1980s, the United States would average a billion-dollar weather disaster every 82 days. Now it’s every 18 days, Smith said. That’s not inflation because damages are adjusted to factor that out, he said. It’s nastier weather and more development, people and buildings in harm’s way, he said.

Globally “if you zoom in the last six years, 2017 to 2022, this has been particularly bad” especially compared to the five years before, said Martin Bertogg, Swiss Re’s head of catastrophic peril.

“It felt like a regime change, some people called it a new normal,” Bertogg said. But he thinks it was more getting back, after a brief respite, to a long-term trend of disaster costs steadily rising 5% to 7% a year.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said the increasing number of disasters makes the case for reducing emissions.

“You’re spending money now because we’re not doing the things we ought to be doing,” Kerry said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ll be spending a hell of a lot more under much more stringent circumstances than we are today if we don’t move faster.”

Not every year has to be a whopper. The U.S. got a break in 2019 when there were “only” 14 billion-dollar disasters, NOAA’s Smith said.

“A growing body of evidence indicates that climate change is increasing the variability as well as the average” of weather disasters, said Stanford University environment director Chris Field, who led a United Nations 2012 report on extreme weather. “What this means is that in some years we get hit harder than others. In other years we get hit like never before.”

“The important thing is that the trend in disasters is increasing,” Field said. “And it will continue to increase until we halt the warming.”

Looking at damages, mostly insured losses, can give a skewed picture because how much a disaster cost depends greatly on how wealthy the area that the disaster hit, less so than the scale of the disaster itself, said Debarati Guha-Sapir, who runs the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

And even more important, these figures are about dollars, not people, and that distorts the true picture, said Guha-Sapir and University of Washington health and climate professor Kristie Ebi.

“What is insured is a small fraction of total infrastructure and the people killed in Pakistan,” which lowers the damage amount despite 1,700 people killed, Ebi said.

The flood in Pakistan, which submerged one-third of a country that’s bigger than Texas, was not the only thing that hit that developing country.

“Pakistan just couldn’t catch a break this year. A January snowstorm killed 23 followed by a lethal spring heatwave, then devastating floods from June-October took over 1,700 lives and untold livelihoods,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell climate Research Center in Cape Cod. “Many other surprising, less publicized, and alarming events wreaked havoc on local communities, such as the sudden collapse of the lucrative snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea, rapid demise of European glaciers, inundation of several coastal villages in Alaska by ex- tropical cyclone Merbok.”

“Additional heat in the atmosphere is sucking moisture out of soils, exacerbating drought and heatwaves,” Francis said. “Evaporation from oceans and land also increases the amount of moisture in the air, which provides more fuel for storms and heavier downpours.”

Swiss Re’s Bertogg said although climate change is at work he estimates two-thirds, perhaps more, of the rise in damages is due to more people and things in harm’s way.

Urbanization across the globe puts more people in dense environments, which increases damage when disaster hits, Bertogg said. Then add urban sprawl that takes those cities and makes them geographically bigger and thus more vulnerable, he said. A good example of that is how wildfires started damaging more homes in California as more homes got built in rural areas, he said.

Plus more construction is being built on the coast and along waterways making them more vulnerable to storms and flooding, with flooding as “the biggest threat for the global economy,” Bertogg said.

But NOAA’s Smith keeps searching for a little silver lining in storm clouds: “I just hope the trends get a little bit less profound and less stressful for society. We all need a break.”

___

Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

___

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning gestures during a press conference at the Min...
Associated Press

Beijing calls US claims over balloons ‘information warfare’

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.” The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that […]
1 day ago
French President Emmanuel Macron, center, poses with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left,...
Associated Press

Zelenskyy wraps up European tour with visit to EU summit

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers, already heading home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and, as hardware goes, France’s highest medal of honor. The European Union’s 27 leaders were awaiting the man in khaki in Brussels on Thursday, hoping […]
1 day ago
Heavy machinery moves coal as it is poured onto a stack near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, Aus...
Associated Press

Australia rejects new coal mine on environmental grounds

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has for the first time rejected a coal mining application based on environmental law. The government is under pressure to curb climate change by blocking all new coal and gas extraction projects. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of both fossil fuels, which are major sources of the […]
1 day ago
Raqiya Abdsalam, who survived a bout of dengue fever, sits at her home in El-Obeid, Sudan on Januar...
Associated Press

Sudan’s tropical disease spike reflects poor health system

EL OBEID, Sudan (AP) — The two Sudanese women thought they had malaria and were taking their medication, but things took a dire turn. Both complained of a splitting headache and fever that didn’t respond to the anti-malaria treatment. By the time she was diagnosed with dengue fever, Raqiya Abdsalam was unconscious. “Soon after they […]
1 day ago
FILE - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. gestures during his speech at the 2022 Department ...
Associated Press

Japan, Philippines to sign plans to boost defense ties

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are expected to sign key agreements to boost their defense ties Thursday as Asia sees tensions around China’s growing influence. Marcos is visiting Japan soon after he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reached agreements on allowing the United States […]
1 day ago
FILE - Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in Nov. 2022, a...
Associated Press

News groups ask Idaho Supreme Court to reject University slayer gag order

Thirty news organizations have asked the Idaho Supreme Court to overturn a gag order in a case against a man accused of stabbing four students to death.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
New abnormal: Climate disaster damage ‘down’ to $268 billion