2017 the most costly year in US history for natural disasters
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2017 the most costly year in US history for natural disasters

As annual temperatures rise, hurricanes, wildfires, freezes, and floods lead to at least 360 deaths, cause damage of $306 billion

Waves crash over a seawall at the mouth of the Miami River from Biscayne Bay, Florida., as Hurricane Irma passes by, Sempember 10, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Waves crash over a seawall at the mouth of the Miami River from Biscayne Bay, Florida., as Hurricane Irma passes by, Sempember 10, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI, Florida (AFP) — Last year was the most expensive in US history for natural disasters, with a series of fires, freezes, floods and hurricanes that cost $306 billion (NIS 1,054 billion), according to a US government report Monday.

A total of 16 disasters cost $1 billion (NIS 3.45 billion) or more, and led to at least 360 deaths, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The death toll could be substantially higher, once Puerto Rico completes its review of deaths from Hurricane Maria, experts said.

The previous costliest year for the US was 2005, with losses of $215 billion (NIS 740 billion) driven in large part by Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

But last year was the most expensive hurricane season on record, with a total price tag of $265 billion (NIS 913 billion), the report said.

Hurricane Harvey, which dumped some 127 centimeters (50 inches) of rain on Texas, cost $125 billion (NIS 431 billion), second only to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, in historical records of billion-dollar disasters, going back to 1980.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, destroyed communities in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, on September 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hurricane Maria, which flattened much of Puerto Rico, cost $90 billion (NIS 310 billion), while Hurricane Irma, which plowed into the Caribbean and Florida, cost $50 billion (NIS 172 billion).

“Hurricane Maria now ranks as the third costliest weather and climate disaster on record for the nation, and Irma ranks as the fifth costliest,” said the report.

Last year’s western wildfire season — which ravaged large parts of California — cost $18 billion (NIS 62 billion), “tripling the previous US annual wildfire cost record,” said the report.

Vehicles pass beside a wall of flames on the 101 highway as it reaches the coast during the Thomas wildfire near Ventura, California, on December 6, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON)

NOAA said the number of billion-dollar disasters — 16 — tied with 2011 for the most in a single year.

The billion dollar disasters included two flooding events, one freeze event, eight severe storm events, three tropical cyclones, one drought and one wildfire.

The costs include estimates of both insured and uninsured losses, but are likely below the true costs because they do not include health care costs.

Heat records

Last year was also the third warmest on record in the United States, following 2012 and 2016.

Every US state on the mainland and Alaska had above-average temperatures for the third year in a row.

Five states had their hottest year on record: Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Mexico.

“The long-term signal is tied with long-term warming,” said Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring section at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

However, that warming trend does not erase the likelihood of fierce winter storms.

“We do live in a warming world, but we still have very cold colds,” he told reporters on a conference call.

“We are still going to see blue blobs on the map.”

Despite cold snaps in various parts of the nation throughout the year, above-average temperatures in other parts of the year more “than offset any seasonal cool conditions,” said the report.

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