The United States has already broken its record for the number of weather disasters with damages exceeding $1 billion in a calendar year, four months before the close of 2023.
According to a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been 23 billion-dollar weather disasters so far this year, surpassing the previous record of 22 in 2020. These disasters, which include hurricanes, wildfires, floods, winter storms, and severe storms, have cost Americans nearly $58 billion and caused at least 253 deaths.
Notable events include Hurricane Idalia, the strongest hurricane to hit Florida’s Big Bend region in 125 years, and the Lahaina fire, the deadliest wildfire in the US in over a century.
With 12 weeks remaining in the Atlantic hurricane season and the risk of autumn wildfires in the West, the US is likely to experience even more billion-dollar disasters by the end of the year.
Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, released a statement in response to the news. She argued that the US government needs to do a much better job of preventing disasters, rather than simply responding to disasters after they strike.
Cleetus also emphasized the urgency of investing in climate resilience and adaptation to mitigate the increasing costs and impacts of these disasters.
According to Grist, the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated approximately $50 billion for projects focused on climate resilience. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act supplemented that amount with billions more. These additional funds include $2.6 billion for coastal communities, $235 million for tribes, and $25 million for Native Hawaiians.
However, the benefits of these investments may take years to materialize. In the meantime, the federal government is struggling to cope with the immediate repercussions of natural disasters.
As part of a request for supplemental funding currently being reviewed by Congress, the Biden administration has proposed an additional $16 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This funding is designed to ensure that the agency’s disaster relief fund remains adequate until the end of the fiscal year in September.
Scientists expect climate change to fuel more intense storms and more frequent and larger fires. As a result, the cost of adapting and recovering from these events is likely to only increase.
Cleetus summarized her remarks by saying, “The science is clear that adapting to runaway climate change is an impossible feat. So we must also sharply curtail the use of fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis.”
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