The most destructive extreme weather events in the United States last year caused 65 human fatalities and $19 billion in damage, according to an analysis of federal government and insurance industry data released Thursday by the Center for American Progress.
Titled “Extreme Weather on the Rise,” the report found that the U.S. experienced eight total extreme weather events in 2014, and that each of those disasters caused at least $1 billion in damage. Those events — which included historic drought, flooding, and storms — affected 35 states in total. In the last four years, the report found, extreme weather events across the United States caused 1,286 fatalities and $227 billion in economic losses across 44 states.
“Evidence shows that we are living in an era of extreme weather,” the report said. “If trends continue, the government must increase investments in resilience strategies, such as climate-smart pre-disaster mitigation, fortified infrastructure, sustainable resource management planning, and scientific research.”
The study noted a growing occurrence in the number of presidential Major Disaster Declarations relating to extreme weather since the 1960s. In only the first five years of the current decade, the United States has already experienced nearly as many extreme weather major disasters as it did in the 1960s and 1980s combined, the report said. If current trends continue, it said, the 2010s will see more than 600 extreme weather events — far surpassing any decade in over half a century.
The overwhelming view of the global scientific community is that extreme weather events will become more severe and frequent as the climate continues to warm. While no single episode can be easily connected to climate change, warming temperatures “can lead to changes in the likelihood of the occurrence or strength of extreme weather and climate events such as extreme precipitation events or warm spells,” according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Notably, 2014 was globally the hottest year on record.
While severe precipitation events tend to be the most deadly, the most expensive extreme weather disaster of the decade thus far is the Western drought, which has cost $46 billion to date, the report said.
In order to protect perilously low freshwater resources in those areas affected by the drought, multiple states have taken increased measures to manage natural resources that are key to their economies. On Wednesday, California Governor Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent cut below 2013 water usage levels to water supply agencies across the states. Last week, Brown also signed a $1.1 billion emergency drought relief bill to help local communities meet the mandatory usage cuts.
The Center’s report comes as Congress is set to finalize the fiscal year 2016 budget, which includes funding to combat what the report asserts are rising disaster costs. President Obama’s request to Congress includes in the ballpark of $90 billion worth of programming to reduce disaster costs and build resilient infrastructure and communities, the report said.
“At only this decade’s halfway point, extreme weather events of all sizes have devastated Americans’ lives and their wallets to the tune of more than $227 billion — a sum that dwarfs the roughly $90 billion in resilience spending that the president’s budget proposal calls for,” the report said.
Miranda Peterson is a research assistant for the Energy Policy team at the Center for American Progress. She is a co-author of Thursday’s report.