With wildfires, hurricanes, drought, and natural disasters, this year has been by far the costliest ever in the United States in terms of weather events. The total cost of weather-related damages has likely exceeded $350 billion, at least $100 billion more than the previous mark. Of course, this figure does not include the far more important loss of lives.
This was the first year that the United States was hit by three category 4 or higher hurricanes, and it was one of the two highest-cost hurricane seasons, with only 2005 comparable. Estimates of the total damage and other costs of this year’s hurricanes range from $188 to $250 billion (current U.S. dollars), compared with $211 billion in 2005. This year also saw the greatest number of consecutive named storms becoming hurricanes, with Franklin through Ophelia all reaching winds of hurricane strength. (See “Top Ten Costliest Hurricanes” on chart below).
Also check out Tracking the High Costs of Hurricanes to learn how this hurricane season compared to seasons past.
According to the U.S. government National Interagency Fire Center, 2017 had less than the 10-year average number of fires, but they burned 150 percent of the average acreage. The Forest Service has spent more than $1.75 billion fighting fires so far this fiscal year, and the Interior Department has spent more than $391 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Although the drought conditions that dominated in California a couple of years ago have largely abated, the fire season has been particularly bad there, to the extent that it has threatened the crop of wine grapes and destroyed or damaged at least 8,400 buildings. Greater-than-normal rainfall in California during the past couple of years has enabled forest growth that has actually increased the amount of underbrush available to stoke wildfire growth.
While the area covered by drought and the overall intensity of droughts has decreased over the past couple of years, parts of Montana and South Dakota are experiencing an “Exceptional Drought.”
With the United States continuing to experience average temperatures that have been above historical normals, the areas inhabited by mosquitoes and ticks continues to expand northward, increasing the incidence of the Zika virus and Lyme disease. For example, the average annual number of cases of Lyme disease has approximately doubled over the past 20 years.
In addition, there has been damage from winter storms, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, and other weather events—although much less than for the events discussed above.
Led by what was likely the most expensive hurricane season ever recorded, the cost of weather damages in the United States set a new record in 2017.