4 Extreme Weather Events That Led To Extreme Costs In 2012

First, the good news: for 2012, the number of extreme weather events costing more than a billion dollars was eleven, down from 2011, when there were fourteen such disasters, according to figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week.

Now, the bad news: while the number of such disasters is down, the economic costs for 2012 are expected to exceed last year’s tab of $60 billion; this is mostly as a result of Superstorm Sandy, which may cost $100 billion, and this year’s extreme drought, which could be even more expensive. In addition to these two, the billion-dollar climate disasters include seven severe thunderstorm outbreaks, two hurricanes, droughts and wildfires.

And even more bad news: the tab for 2012 will most likely rank as the second most expensive year for extreme weather disasters since 1980. Top prize goes to 2005, the year when Katrina and three other hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast.

Worldwide, the estimated cost for this year’s natural disasters is at least $140 billion, according to a report by the Swiss Re insurance group, but it was the US that sustained the most expensive losses. In fact, the top five losses were all in the US. Also in 2012, more than 11,000 people died because of these extreme events.

By comparison, in 2011 total losses worldwide from natural disasters were around $350 billion, largely due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Studies have indicated that global warming increases the likelihood of extreme heat waves, wildfires and extreme precipitation, but the Guardian adds a cautionary note:

Jake Crouch, a climatologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), said it is difficult to make direct connections between climate change and the economic losses from extreme events seen this year, or in other years.

“Climate change is having a role in these events but how much of a role is hard to tell at this time,” Crouch said. Many other factors, including socioeconomic trends such as a rising population that is exposing more people and infrastructure to extreme weather events, are helping to drive disaster loss trends.

Here’s a reminder of four of these billion-dollar events in the US, in chronological order:


1. Wildfires

The 2012 U.S. fire season was the 3rd worst in U.S. history, with 9.2 million acres burned. The Waldo Canyon fire that erupted in Colorado at the end of June is considered the most destructive wildfire in the history of the state, and overall more than 3.6 million acres burned in the US during August—the most on record for any August in recorded history. It wasn’t just Colorado that suffered: New Mexico had its largest fire in state history, while Oregon had its most widepread fire since the 1860s.


2.  Drought

The total cost of this year’s Great Drought is not yet finalized, but experts believe this may turn out to be the costliest weather event of 2012.  The area affected by the drought in the contiguous US peaked at 61.8 percent in July, making it the largest since the Dust Bowl drought of December 1939. Crop damages alone are estimated to be $35 billion.

Official U.S. Navy Imagery/flickr

3. Hurricane Isaac

Remember Isaac? That was the hurricane that made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River on August 28 as a Category 1 Hurricane with 80 mph winds, but thankfully New Orleans’ newly upgraded levee stood strong. However, as the hurricane moved on, it encountered levees that had not been upgraded, resulting in $2 billion in damage (and a delay to the start of the Republican Convention in Tampa).


4. Superstorm Sandy
No hurricane on record has been larger than this monster, which made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 29, with sustained winds of 80 mph. Its storm-force winds attacked 943 miles of the US coast, and brought torrential rain as well as snow and blizzard conditions in six states from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. Over 130 people lost their lives, and the damage may well be over $100 billion.


Related Care2 Coverage

Scientists Confirm Climate Change, Extreme Weather, Linked

Are We To Blame For The Colorado Wildfire?

Superstorm Sandy Leaves a Path of Devastation (And A Surprise)


Sue Fowler
Sue Fowler5 years ago

Noted thanks

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Ralph L. Our Military Industrial Complex and our Fossil Fuel Industry are the powers that be. Our only hope is to find some deal that can give the powers that be all the money they lust after and still save agriculture from global warming. High Technology to the rescue. Only if we can figure out how to make that technology sufficiently profitable for the powers that be for the powers that be to WILLINGLY exchange what they have now for it.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

This decade most of the damage is economic damage from weather-related disasters. When the **** really hits the fan in the 2070s, most of the damage is likely to be a combination wars, plagues, and famines, resulting in the deaths of 90% of world population including 50% of industrialized nations population, and the destruction of civilization, resulting in a new dark ages.
I hope the powers that be come to their senses in time to make a deal that can save agriculture from global warming before it is too late. Some invisible tipping point will be passed, sealing our doom, decades before agriculture fails too badly to feed more than 10% of world population.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

Sending a Green Star is a simple way to say "Thank you"
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Sumita Chatterjee

Climate change is really a matter of agreat concern.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.5 years ago

thanks for posting

Barbara D.
Past Member 5 years ago

More and more and more people = greater $ impact from natural events.

Ana R
ANA MARIJA R5 years ago

Thank you for the info.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for a great article,

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Just 4 ..seems like more.