Now, what actually makes up that billion-dollar sum?
According to a workshop
Climate Central hosted with Adam Smith, lead scientist for NOAA’s US Billion-dollar Weather and Climate Disasters research, the costs are compiled using a mix of federal and state statistics, plus private-sector insurance claims. The goal, he said, is to account for “direct total losses,” or costs that would not have been incurred if not for the weather event.
Smith also offered insight into what does not make the count, including loss of “natural capital,” resulting mental and physical healthcare expenses, and ripple effects on the supply chain. It also doesn’t factor in some of the smaller but crucial costs that can be particularly difficult for those in the path of disasters, like paying for gas to evacuate or a temporary place to stay. As other panelists in the workshop pointed out, the estimates quite likely also miss some expenses in often-overlooked frontline communities. For example, those who live in mobile homes are often excluded
from government tallies and have historically
been left out of some disaster relief programs.
Still, the number does help paint a picture of the strain on our disaster services and resources, and it provides a benchmark to look at over time. NOAA has been tracking billion-dollar disasters since 1980, with the total tally currently at 338 (cost-adjusted over time). Overall, there has been an average of seven of these disasters per year, but there has been a notable uptick recently: 2022 is the record eighth-consecutive year that NOAA has clocked ten or more billion-dollar disasters.
Climate Central analyzed
the amount of time between these particularly large, costly disasters, finding that the average number of days from one to the next went from 82 in the 1980s to 26 in the 2010s. In the past five years, that average has further shrunk to 18 days between billion-dollar disasters. Climate change is one of the contributing factors in this shift, making certain types of extreme weather both more frequent and intense, as is human action, which shapes the landscapes that experience this weather. I’ve written before about the importance of these windows between disasters when reporting on a Louisiana community
that was hit by a series of compounding disasters just months apart and the challenge of fitting wildfire mitigation practices into these increasingly short spans in California