Extreme weather and the ongoing impacts of the global climate crisis took a massive toll on the US last year. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report summarizing the US climate in 2022. It tells a sobering story of drought, devastating storms and huge financial losses.
NOAA cataloged 18 weather and climate-related disasters that each topped $1 billion in losses.
"These disasters included six severe storms, three tropical cyclones, three hail events, two tornadoes and one each for drought, flood, winter storm and wildfire events," the agency said. Total US disaster costs went over $165 billion for the year, making it the third costliest since records began in 1980. Hurricane Ian's impact on Florida was a big driver behind that figure, accounting for $112.9 billion.
NOAA's 2022 report fits into a longer-term trend of extreme weather as the globe warms. Extreme weather events are exacerbated by human-caused climate change. And it's not just about financial losses. The toll on human life is also very real.
"Over the last seven years (2016-2022), 122 separate billion-dollar disasters have killed at least 5,000 people and cost greater than $1 trillion in damage," the agency said.
While NOAA's count of 1,331 tornadoes is an eye-opening number, it's actually near average for the US. NOAA cataloged 66,000 wildfires that consumed 7.5 million acres, which was also near average. While these might have been typical overall, tornadoes and fires had a devastating impact on affected communities. New Mexico, for example, experienced its largest wildfire on record as the Hermits Peak fire consumed over 341,000 acres.
The average temperature for the contiguous US came in at 53.4 Fahrenheit (11.9 Celsius), 1.4 degrees above average. Annual precipitation for 2022 ranked in the driest third of the historical record.
Drought continued to hammer the US. "The multi-year western US drought resulted in water stress/shortages across many locations in 2022 as some major reservoirs dropped to their lowest levels on record," said NOAA. Water levels in the Mississippi River dropped so low critical barge traffic was interrupted. NOAA totaled the 2022 western and central US drought and heat wave cost at over $22 billion.