Record number of billion-dollar disasters in U.S. in 2020

Last year, the U.S. experienced a record-smashing 22 weather and climate disasters that killed at least 262 people and injured scores more. Damages exceeded $1 billion each and totaled approximately $95 billion for all 22 events.

Nighttime cityscape with huge fires in background looking like volcanic eruptions.

Irvine, California, on October 28, 2020, with 2 wildfires raging in the hills behind the city. Image via NOAA.

In 2020, the U.S. experienced a record-smashing 22 weather and climate disasters that killed at least 262 people and injured scores more, including wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, and heatwaves. Damages from these disasters exceeded $1 billion each and totaled approximately $95 billion for all 22 events. That’s according to a NOAA report released January 8, 2021.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which has tracked U.S. weather and climate disasters since 1980, 2020 shattered the previous annual record of 16 events in 2011 and 2017. The year 2020 is the sixth consecutive year (2015-2020) in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events have happened in the United States. Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 285 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that have exceeded $1.875 trillion in total damages to date.

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In 2020, a record number of named tropical storms formed in the Atlantic, with a record 12 of them making landfall. The United States also had its most active wildfire year on record, thanks to very dry conditions in the U.S. West and unusually warm temperatures throughout much of the country.

A team of disaster scientists, writing in The Conversation, said:

The Atlantic had so many hurricanes, meteorologists ran out of tropical storm names for only the second time. Across the Midwest, extreme storms flattened crops and tore up buildings. Western states repeatedly broke records for their largest wildfires on record. Globally, [2020] was tied for the hottest year on record.

Learn about the methodology and data sources for calculating the billion-dollar disasters.

Map of US with labeled circles scattered across it.

View larger. | A map of the United States plotted with the locations and dates for the record-breaking 22 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that stuck the country in 2020. Image via NOAA.

Here’s a list of the billion-dollar climate and extreme weather events across the U.S. in 2020, according to scientists at NCEI:

1 wildfire event (Western wildfires focused across California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington). NOAA said:

Last year was the most active wildfire year on record across the West. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history occurred during 2020, with California recording five of the six largest wildfires in its history. Across the U.S., wildfires burned nearly 10.3 million acres during 2020, exceeding the 2000-2010 average by 51%. This was the largest acreage consumed in the U.S. since at least 2000.

7 tropical cyclones (Hanna, Isaias, Laura, Sally, Delta, Zeta and Eta). NOAA said:

The seven billion-dollar tropical cyclones were the most in one year since NOAA started keeping track of billion-dollar disasters in 1980. The extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced an unprecedented 30 named storms, with 12 making landfall in the continental U.S. The combined cost of the seven tropical systems was approximately $40.1 billion, more than 42% of the total U.S. billion-dollar disaster price tag in 2020.

1 drought and heatwave event (summer/fall across Western and Central U.S.). NOAA said:

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 2020 ended with extreme and exceptional drought conditions enveloping about 22% of the contiguous U.S., the largest expanse since August 2012.

3 tornado outbreaks (including the Nashville tornado and Easter outbreak)

10 severe weather events (including the U.S. Midwest derecho and Texas hailstorms)

Contiguous states, Alaska, and Hawaii with circles and paragraphs describing events.

View larger. | A map of the United States plotted with significant climate events that occurred in 2020. You can see full climate report highlights at National Centers for Environmental Information. Image via NOAA.

Chart with statistics.

Image via NOAA/ NCEI

Bottom line: The U.S. endured a record-breaking 22 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2020.

Source: U.S. Billion-dollar Weather and Climate Disasters:Data Sources, Trends, Accuracy and Biases

Via NOAA

Eleanor Imster