There were 20 natural disasters that cost at least $1 billion and took 688 lives in 2021
7 out of the 20 disasters impacted Illinois
PEORIA (HEART OF ILLINOIS ABC) - Climate change not only means temperatures are rising, it also means the number of billion-dollar disasters is on the rise as well. Last year, the United States saw weather disasters totaling $145 billion and more than doubled the deaths reported in 2020 for a total of 688 deaths. You can find a break down of 2021 billion-dollar disasters here: U.S. saw its 4th-warmest year on record, fueled by a record-warm December | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (noaa.gov).
James Auten, Senior NWS Forecaster simply stated, “Across the country, there has been an increase in billion dollar disasters.” The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says 20 separate weather disasters costing at least one billion each happened in 2021, just 2 shy of the record setting year in 2020.
Trend Ford, an Illinois State Climatologist, said “But when we adjust for inflation, we still see a significant increase in billion-dollar disasters. And as you mentioned, this last year, 2021, we had 20 in the US alone.” Seven out of the 20 disasters impacted Illinois. One event was related to extreme cold in February, while the other six were all severe weather events. That includes the tornado outbreaks in December leading to six deaths in Edwardsville, IL.
2021 was also the fourth warmest year on record, along with December being the third warmest here in Peoria. Ford added, “So certainly when we have a very, very warm year like we had in 20-21, we have an exposure to extreme heat. But also, one of the reasons why 2021 was so warm, was because it was also very, very dry for a large chunk of the US.”
In Central Illinois the average annual temperature has risen 3.5 degrees since 1970.
Six of the warmest years on record were in the last 10 years. The winter season has seen the biggest increase in temperatures, climbing 5.3 degrees.
Auten said, “Before 2000 we we didn’t have a lot of events, but now were are having more events in 2020. So in that 20 year span, it has gone up. We have seen an overall average cost increasing during that 20 year period between 2000 and now.”
In the US, the increase in billion dollar disasters has been small over the past 20 years, as more of these disasters appear in other parts of the country.
Climate change is only one part of the issue. Auten mentioned that severe weather that typically occurs of the central plains has gradually shifted more south east, impacting areas that are more populated and have weaker infrastructure. Thus, more deaths and more damage would occur in these areas as opposed to others.
Ford provided the example of a severe weather event hit an open field in Central Illinois versus Chicago, obviously, hitting the city would be much worse.
Ford said, “We don’t experience a one and a half degree Fahrenheit change over one hundred years, we experience a massive flood, or a drought, or a really, really strong wind storm that damages or causes casualties or fatalities.”
Ford said educating yourself and others along with making sure businesses and communities are prepared when natural disasters strike, can make these disasters less hazardous and less deadly. He said, “A hazard isn’t necessarily a disaster. What makes a hazard a disaster, is our (humans) response to that hazard.”
An example would be having a flood occur, that being a hazard. It becomes a disaster when we are vulnerable to that hazard, such as our infrastructure, cannot handle the water. That’s when these hazards become disasters and can lead to costly damages along with the potential to take lives.
Educating business on how to have buildings up to code and plans for when severe weather strikes is important to help mitigate the impacts of the disasters.
For more information about the 2021 billion-dollar disasters, visit: Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) (noaa.gov)
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