New data on natural disasters in the U.S. reveals that 2022 was one of the costliest and deadliest years on record.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year brought 18 disasters each with losses topping $1 billion. Damages from those disasters cost a total of $165 billion – the third-highest tally since 1980 – and resulted in 474 deaths.
“That is part of a continuation of a long term trend that we’ve experienced in the United States of there being increases in the number of big disasters we’re seeing and an increase in how much they cost,” said Kristina Dahl, a principal climate scientist with advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists. “So when we look back to a period like the 1980s or ’90s, in recent years, we’ve been well above those kinds of averages and costs.”
NOAA’s data includes two disasters in the Mountain West – the record-breaking Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fires that devastated northeast New Mexico, and the drought and deadly heat waves that hit the region last year.
“Essentially, climate change is amplifying extreme weather events,” Dahl said. “So whereas we may have experienced heat waves in the past in places like New Mexico, Nevada, those heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more severe.”
Disadvantaged communities tend to be more vulnerable to these disasters. In the New Mexico counties affected by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fires, for example, more than half the population is Hispanic or Latino. Additionally, more than 60% of the Hispanic or Latino population lives below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data.
“Our systems of helping people to recover after disasters don’t work as well for people in disadvantaged communities,” Dahl said. “So it’s always important to keep in mind that we may all be experiencing the same disaster, but it’s affecting us very differently.”
Dahl hopes the Biden administration’s investments in climate resilience are the beginning of a long-term national strategy for coping with extreme weather and climate events.
“We need to start getting out ahead of these disasters and allowing people to prepare for them in cost effective ways and equitable ways as well, so that we’re not left reeling so much after every disaster,” she said. “It is really disheartening and it shows just how severely underprepared we are as a nation for the climate that we currently have, let alone the climate that we will be experiencing in the next several decades.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2023 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.
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