Saturday, January 18, 2014

Earth's Record 41 Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters of 2013 - Dr. Jeff Masters' Wunderground

Billion-Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters 1980-2013. (Credit: NOAA, NCDC) Click to enlarge.
Earth set a new record for billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013 with 41, said insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report issued this week.  Despite the record number of billion-dollar disasters, weather-related natural disaster losses (excluding earthquakes) were only slightly above average in 2013, and well below what occurred in 2012. That's because 2013 lacked a U.S. mega-disaster like Hurricane Sandy ($65 billion in damage) or the 2012 drought ($30 billion in damage.)  The most expensive global disaster of 2013 was the June flood in Central Europe, which cost $22 billion.  The deadliest disaster was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed about 8,000 people in the Philippines. Four countries set records for most expensive weather-related disaster in their history, as tabulated by EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, and adjusted for inflation:
  1. Germany, June flooding, $16 billion.  Tied with $16 billion in damage from the August 2002 Elbe River floods.
  2. Philippines, Super Typhoon Haiyan, $13 billion.  Previous record: $2.2 billion, August 2013 floods near Manila.
  3. New Zealand, Jan - May Drought, $1.6 billion.  Previous record: $0.3 billion, January 2001 heat wave.
  4. Cambodia, Oct - Nov floods, $1 billion.  Previous record: $0.5 billion, August 2011 flood.
Forty-one billion dollar weather disasters is a huge number of these highly disruptive events to experience in one year.  This is especially so given that 2013 was a neutral El Niño year, and the previous record of 40 billion-dollar weather disasters was set in 2010, when we had both a strong El Niño and a strong La Niña event in the same year.  Strong El Niño or La Niña events tend to cause an increase in weather extremes capable of causing major disasters, so seeing 41 disasters in a neutral El Niño year gives me concern that climate change could have been responsible for a portion of this huge tally.  However, looking at disaster losses to make an argument that climate change is affecting our weather is a difficult proposition.  The increasing trend in weather disaster losses is thought to be primarily due to increases in wealth and population, and to people moving to more vulnerable areas--though the studies attempting to correct damage losses for these factors are highly uncertain.  To find evidence of climate change, we are better off looking at how the atmosphere, oceans, and glaciers are changing--and there is plenty of evidence there.
Earth's Record 41 Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters of 2013 - Dr. Jeff Masters' Wunderground

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