In the year that President Donald Trump pulled downplayed global warming as a security threat; the U.S. received a harsh reminder of a destructive rash of hurricanes, fires and floods perils.
The country recorded 15 weather events costing $1 billion or more each through early October, one short of the record 16 in 2011, according to the federal government’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. And the tally doesn’t include the recent wildfires in southern California.
In many cases, the weather broke records. In others, it was just downright odd, like the February warm spell that sent temperatures to a record 72 Fahrenheit (22 Celsius) in Burlington, Vermont, and spawned a tornado in Massachusetts.
“When all is said and done, this year (2017) is going to be one of the worst years on record for U.S. damages,” said Antonio Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
Among the most devastating events were hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and wildfires in northern California.
The killer storms caused economic losses of more than $210 billion in the U.S. and across the Caribbean, and about $100 billion in insured damages, according to Mark Bove, a senior research scientist with Munich Reinsurance America in Princeton, New Jersey.
The Colorado and Minnesota, tornado outbreaks across the Midwest and South, flooding that damaged a massive dam in California and triggered evacuations downstream were some of the cases in record time.
Many of the events can be explained by historical weather patterns. The most calamitous, though, showed signs of a warming climate, including Hurricane Harvey, which dropped as much as 60 inches rain as it meandered around the Texas coast after coming ashore as the first of three Category 4 storms to strike the U.S. this year.
Warming worsened Harvey’s impacts by boosting moisture in the atmosphere and weakening high-altitude winds that would normally push such a system along, Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge was quoted as saying. Harvey marked the third-straight year of major flooding in Houston.
In Texas and elsewhere, “there are certainly indications that these extreme rainfall events are occurring more frequently,” said Greg Carbin, branch chief at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.