Deadly extreme weather year for United States cost at least $ 145 billion

(AP) – The United States has seen a steady onslaught of deadly billion dollar weather and climate disasters in an extremely hot 2021, as the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions have jumped by 6% last year due to the surge in coal and long-haul trucking, putting America even further behind its goal of reducing climate change by 2030.

Three different reports released on Monday, while not directly related, paint a picture of the United States in 2021 grappling with global warming and their efforts to curb it.

A report from the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, said on Monday that in 2021, U.S. emissions of heat-trapping gases have rebounded from the first year of the pandemic at a faster rate than the economy as a whole, making it harder to meet the country’s commitment to the world to cut emissions in half from 2005 by 2030. And last year was the deadliest weather year for the United States. A contiguous United since 2011 with 688 people dying in 20 different billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that, combined, have cost at least $ 145 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

It was the second-highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters – which are adjusted for inflation with records dating back to 1980 – and the third most expensive.

“It has been a difficult year. Climate change has taken a canonical approach to dangers across the country, ”said NOAA climatologist and economist Adam Smith, who compiles billion dollar weather disasters for NOAA.

Scientists have long said that human-caused climate change makes extreme weather conditions more unpleasant and more frequent, documenting numerous links to wild and deadly weather events. They say warmer air and oceans and melting sea ice are altering the jet stream that brings and blocks storm fronts, makes hurricanes wetter and stronger, while exacerbating droughts and fires in forest in the west.

Last year’s weather disasters included a record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest where temperatures reached 116 degrees in Portland, a devastating and deadly freezing storm in Texas, a widespread windstorm called derecho, four hurricanes which caused intense damage, outbreaks of deadly tornadoes, mudslides and persistent drought and numerous forest fires.

While 2020 set the record for the most billion dollar disasters, in 2021 “the extremes seemed a little deeper than in 2020,” Smith said.

Billion-dollar weather disasters last year were more than twice as deadly as in 2020, when those extremes killed 262 people. The deadliest last year was 2011. Hurricane Maria in 2017 killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, which is not part of the contiguous United States.

Changes in where people live and the vulnerability of housing were factors, Smith said, “but the 800-pound gorilla in the room is, of course, climate change, because it’s accelerating all of these trends in it. which relates to the disaster potential for damage “.

“We have these cascading events compounded one after another, after another,” Smith said. “A lot of trends are going in the wrong direction.”

The past five years have cost $ 742 billion in 86 separate $ 1 billion weather disasters, an average of more than 17 a year, a new record. This is nearly $ 100 billion more than the combined total of all billion dollar disasters from 1980 to 2004, adjusted for inflation, and far more than the $ 3 billion per year disasters that the nation averaged in the 1980s.

“This is exactly what I would expect with climate change, as climate change essentially supercharges many types of extreme weather conditions, making heat waves, droughts, forest fires, heavy rainfall, more severe, destructive and deadly floods and storms, “said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of environmental studies at the University of Michigan, who was not among the reports.

Last year was also the fourth warmest year on record in the United States, with an average temperature of 54.5 degrees (12.5 degrees Celsius), according to another NOAA report. Several cities had their hottest years on record, including Akron, Ohio; Baltimore; Bismarck, North Dakota; Boston; Buffalo, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Montpellier, Vermont; Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.

Last month was the hottest December on record for the contiguous United States, averaging 39.3 degrees (4.1 degrees Celsius), or 6.7 degrees (12 degrees Celsius) above of the 20th century average.

National temperature records date back 127 years, and the 20th century average is 52 degrees (11.1 degrees Celsius).

Experts had expected U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to increase following the 2020 pandemic’s plunge, but their increase worried them.

“What was appalling was that emissions rebounded even faster than the economy as a whole,” said Kate Larsen, partner of Rhodium Group, co-author of the emissions report, which was based on daily and weekly government data.

Coal consumption increased for the first time since 2014, 17% from 2020, mainly due to soaring natural gas prices, Larsen said.

“It’s an example of how we’ve used cheap natural gas to drive the decline of coal over the past 15 years,” Larsen said.

The other major driver was transportation emissions, mostly from long-haul diesel trucking, up 10% as freight almost returned to pre-pandemic levels and is expected to continue to rise, Larsen said.

In the long run, US greenhouse gas emissions have declined, even with the jump in 2021 compared to the sudden drop in 2020. However, last year’s emissions make it more difficult to achieve l ‘target set by President Joe Biden as part of the Paris and Glasgow climate accords, Larsen said. She said to achieve the 50% reduction promised by Biden, the country must reduce its emissions by 5% per year, without increasing.

“We are running out of time,” she said.

Cornell University climatologist Natalie Mahowald, who was not among the reports, agreed.

“The sweeping changes in our economy that are necessary to meet low climate targets have not been met,” Mahowald said. “Unfortunately, what we are seeing today is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we will see unless substantial emission reductions are made and quickly.”

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