2019 Rewind

The Decade of Weather Catastrophes

Extreme weather killed thousands of people in the U.S. and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage in the 2010s. These catastrophes are some of the worst in history—and they all happened in the last decade.

Extreme weather killed thousands of people in the U.S. and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage in the 2010s. The catastrophes are some of the worst in history—and they all happened in the last decade.

Hurricanes


Four of the five costliest U.S. hurricanes on record made landfall in the past decade— the worst being 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which was also the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, costing $125 billion in damages. 

That same year, Hurricane Maria had the most severe impact of any weather event of the decade. The Category 4 hurricane hit Puerto Rico in September 2017 and was the strongest to make landfall in the U.S. territory since 1928. 

Maria damaged or destroyed more than 300,000 homes and knocked out 80% of the country’s power lines. Its estimated death toll is between 3,000 and 4,600 people. 

Two other major storms, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Michael in 2018, caused nearly $100 billion more in combined damages. 

The frequency of hurricanes has not been definitively linked to the climate crisis, however, rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures have been found to increase a hurricane’s intensity and destructive potential. 
 

Wildfires


Seven of California’s 10 most destructive wildfires burned through the state from September 2015 through November 2018. 

The 2018 Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 buildings. The Tubbs, Valley, Woolsey, Carr, Nunns, and Thomas Fires also burned more than 775,000 acres altogether and killed 42 people during that time period. 

California has seen a fivefold increase in burned areas since 1972, which is caused in part to human-induced climate change. Rising temperatures have also created arid conditions in forested lands, which makes trees drier and therefore more flammable. 

California has 33 million acres of forested lands, meaning nearly a third of the state is vulnerable to potential fires. 

Tornadoes


In 2011, the U.S. saw the most destructive tornado season in history. It was also the fourth deadliest. 550 people died as a result of the storms, and they caused a record $11.9 billion in damages.  Two years later, 32 more people died as a result of violent tornadoes in Oklahoma.

It’s still unclear whether the climate crisis is affecting tornado occurrence, but studies have concluded that conditions that lead to severe storms are more likely in a warmer atmosphere. 

Flooding 


2019 has been the wettest year on record for several states in the Midwest. Record rain in March caused months-long flooding in the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys, some of which were still flooded in mid-December.

Four of Wisconsin’s five wettest years occurred in the past decade. The climate crisis has increased the likelihood of heavy rainfall, which greatly increases the potential for flooding. As the atmosphere gets warmer, it can hold more moisture, leading to increased precipitation. 

Extreme weather events like these will continue to occur as the climate crisis intensifies. It’s estimated they could cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion more by the end of the next decade, and cause countless damage and casualties.