- A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that natural disasters cost the country $91 billion in 2018 alone. That’s the fourth-highest total cost since record-keeping began in 1980, and only reflects disasters that cost more than $1 billion each.
- The agency tallied 14 separate so-called billion-dollar disasters, ranging from wildfires to hurricanes to hail storms. The 2018 wildfires in California cost $24 billion (along with costs in other Western states), a new U.S. record for fires.
- The tally of billion-dollar disasters continues a worrisome trend for the country, with NOAA saying that the last three years have seen more than double the long-term average of such events.
The disaster report comes the same week that NOAA and NASA declared 2018 as the fourth-hottest year on record, ranking behind 2016, 2015 and 2017, respectively. With warming temperatures driving weather extremes, scientists predict that natural disasters are likely to continue to accelerate.
"The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt — in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change," Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a statement.
For cities, that means the costs of disaster preparation and repair is also likely to accelerate. According to NOAA’s analysis, coastal states saw some of the biggest hits from 2018’s disasters, due to the destruction of Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Taken as a percentage of the Gross State Product (GSP), North Carolina took the biggest hit, with disaster costs totaling between 3-5% of the state’s total production. Florida and Georgia also saw costs between 2% and 3% of GSP from Hurricane Michael.
While the biggest burden is being felt by cities still recovering from recent disasters, even those not directly affected are having to spend on aggressive resiliency plans. The year-round threat of wildfires has forced western cities to shore up fire recovery and spending strategies, including infrastructure changes to reduce fire threat. Coastal cities, meanwhile, are preparing for rising sea levels and storm surges by moving or repairing buildings and roads. Boston, for example, has outlined a plan to overhaul its 47 miles of shoreline to prepare for stronger storms.
The NOAA report underscores that climate change is fueling disasters that pose an existential threat to cities and states, forcing expensive adaptation and resilience now.