Americans have already suffered 10 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2020, a record sixth year in a row
Above-average to record-warm January-June temperatures were observed across the vast majority of the lower 48 states with Florida ranking warmest on record for these six months
While the US battles the coronavirus pandemic, the country has already experienced 10 extreme weather and climate events this year, each causing at least $1 billion in damage. This makes 2020 the sixth consecutive calendar year where 10 or more billion-dollar weather events have occurred — a new record, according to experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information.
All the 10 events were due to severe storms that occurred across more than 30 states from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. In addition to significant economic impacts, these events resulted in 80 fatalities. From March 2 to 4, for example, Tennessee tornadoes and Southeast's severe weather killed 25 and resulted in $2 billion in damages. The Southeast and Eastern tornado outbreak from April 12 to 13 caused $3 billion in damages and killed 35 people. The North Central and Ohio Valley hailstorms and severe weather on April 7 and 8 resulted in an estimated $2.6 billion in damages but no deaths, shows analysis.
"Through the end of June 2020, the US experienced ten weather and climate disasters that caused 80 deaths and incurred losses exceeding $1 billion each. This year is the sixth consecutive year with at least ten separate billion-dollar disasters to date," says the NOAA.
The year 2020 also tied with 2011 and 2016 for having ten disasters within the first six months of the year, just trailing the record set in 2017 (11 events by end of June). Since these records began in 1980, the US has sustained 273 separate weather and climate disasters where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion per event. The total cost of these 273 events exceeds $1.75 trillion.
An unprecedented decade of billion-dollar disasters
Scientists warn that the number and cost of disasters are increasing over time due to a combination of increased exposure (values at risk of possible loss), vulnerability (how much damage does the intensity of wind speed, flood depth at a location cause) and that climate change is increasing the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters. The 2010-2019 decade, for example, has been an unprecedented decade of billion-dollar disasters. The US experienced more than twice the number of billion-dollar disasters during the 2010s than the 2000s decade: 119 versus 59.
"The US billion-dollar disaster damage costs over the last decade (2010-2019) were also historically large, exceeding $800 billion from 119 separate billion-dollar events. Indeed, increased urbanization and material exposure to extreme event impacts is a large driver of the increasing losses, even after taking into account the rising cost of inflation, which we address," say experts.
The analysis shows that over the last several years, costly disasters have been particularly destructive. The historic 2019 US inland flooding across many Central states follows the historic 2018 and 2017 Atlantic hurricane and Western wildfire seasons which set new damage cost records. These disasters have impacted dozens of Eastern, Central, and Western states, in addition to Caribbean territories (Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands).
A relatively hot and dry June
Meanwhile, hot temperatures and below-normal rainfall put June 2020 among the warmest and driest Junes in the 126-year US climate record. Above-average to record-warm January-June temperatures were observed across the vast majority of the lower 48 states. Florida ranked warmest on record for these six months, while New Jersey ranked third warmest and Rhode Island and Massachusetts ranked fourth.
"The average June temperature across the contiguous US was 70.3°F (1.8°F above average), ranking it in the warmest third in the 126-year record. Above-average temperatures were observed across portions of the West and Gulf coasts, the Southwest, Northern Plains, and from the Great Lakes to New England. Below-average June temperatures were scattered across portions of the Deep South, Southeast, and northern Rockies. The year-to-date average temperature for the contiguous US was 50.0°F, 2.4°F above the 20th-century average and ranked eighth warmest in the January-June record," says the report.
The average rainfall for June was 2.72 inches (0.21 of an inch below average) which ranked in the driest third of the record. According to the June 30 US drought monitor report, approximately 25.5% of the US was in drought, up from nearly 20% at the beginning of June. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the Plains, Rockies, Southwest, Northwest, and Puerto Rico. "Below-average precipitation was observed from the West Coast into parts of the central and southern Rockies and from the southern High Plains to the Northern Tier. Below-average conditions were also present across the Northeast and parts of Florida. North Dakota had the sixth driest and Colorado eighth driest January-June on record," shows the analysis.
Despite the dry conditions during June, the precipitation total for January-June was 16.32 inches, 1.01 inches above average, and ranked in the wettest third of the 126-year record. Some locations did see above-average precipitation, including parts of the Pacific Northwest, Rockies and Great Lakes. Idaho had its 13th-wettest June on record, say scientists. "Above-average precipitation occurred across portions of the Northwest and Southwest and from Texas to the Great Lakes and into the Southeast. Tennessee ranked wettest on record, North Carolina ranked fourth and West Virginia and Alabama ranked fifth wettest for this year-to-date period," write authors.