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Most expensive year on record for US natural disasters

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The US experienced a record year of losses from fires, hurricanes and other weather related disasters in 2017, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

US natural disasters, global warming, sea-surface temperature

Hurricane Harvey caused damage estimated at around $125bn in Texas last year -- Photo: KARL SPENCER

 

Total losses amounted to $306bn the agency said, over $90bn more than the previous record set in 2005.

Last year saw 16 separate events with losses exceeding $1bn, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Noaa confirmed that 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the US.

Last year witnessed two Category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the States.

Hurricane Harvey produced major flooding as a result of a storm surge and extreme rain. Nearly 800,000 people needed help. Researchers have already shown that climate change increased the likelihood of the observed rainfall by a factor of at least 3.5.

Noaa says the total costs of the Harvey event were $125bn, which is second only to Hurricane Katrina in terms of costs over the 38 years the record has been maintained.

Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm for the longest period on record. Rain gauges in Nederland, Texas, recorded 1,539mm, the largest ever recorded for a single event in the mainland US. Hurricanes Irma and Maria cost $50bn and $90bn respectively.

As well as hurricanes, there were devastating fires in western states, particularly in California. While last winter and spring saw heavy rains in the region that alleviated a long-term drought, the resulting boom in vegetation created abundant wildfire fuel. Fires in both the north and south of California meant hundreds of thousands of residents had to be evacuated from their homes.

The report from Noaa says that across the US, the overall cost of these fires was $18bn, tripling the previous wildfire cost record.

Noaa confirmed that in overall temperature terms, it was the third warmest year in the US since records began in 1895, behind 2012 and 2016.

"In the general picture the warming [of the] US over the long term is related to the larger scale warming we have seen on the global scale," said Deke Arndt, chief of Noaa's monitoring section.

"The US will have a lot more year to year variability so that it bounces up and down depending on prevailing weather regimes. But the long term signal is tied with long term warming."

The eastern US has been experiencing an extreme cold snap, leading some, such as US president Donald Trump, to query the impact of global warming.

However, Noaa scientists were quick to point out that cold spells do occur even if the overall temperature trend is rising.

"We do live in a warming world but we still have very cold poles and we still have the same weather systems that pull cold air away from those poles and down to where we live," said Deke Arndt

"We are still going to see blue blobs on the map, but when they average out with the pinks and red that we see over the course of the year, we end up seeing a pretty warm year."

While Monday's temperature data from Noaa deals only with the US, last week the European Weather Centre said that globally, 2017 was in fact the second warmest on record.

According to those figures, 2017 was the warmest year on record without the influence of the El Niño weather phenomenon. The calculation was derived from millions of observations from land, sea and space, combined with models.

Temperatures in most regions of the world were above the 1981-2010 average - especially in the Arctic. On the island of Svalbard, the city of Longyearbyen repeatedly experienced mean monthly temperatures more than 6 degrees C above the long-term mark.

In November last year the World Meteorological Organization issued a provisional bulletin stating that 2017 was likely the second or third warmest year on record. That prediction will be clarified in the coming days and weeks as various agencies around the world publish their data for the full year.

There are usually some small differences between the datasets held by the different national bodies based mainly on their coverage of the polar regions and and in their estimates of sea-surface temperature.

 

 

Source: BBC 

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