With 14 ‘Billion-Dollar Disasters’ and Record-Breaking Heat in Alaska and Across South, 2019 Was a Year of Climate Extremes for US

“Americans are put at risk by the serious consequences of the climate crisis.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-8-2020

A fire burns near the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Screenshot: ABC News

Underscoring the need for urgent climate action, a new report on the climate of the United States in 2019 sheds light on numerous weather and temperature extremes that were observed throughout the year and the record amounts of money spent on weather disasters.

Alaska was among the states which recorded unusually high temperatures in 2019, according to an annual summary released Wednesday by NOAA ahead of its full U.S. Climate Report, which is scheduled to be released next week.

The state had its warmest year ever recorded, with a statewide average temperature of 32.2º Fahrenheit—more than 6º above the long-term average temperature. The city of Anchorage had its first 90º day on record.

The year continued a recent trend for Alaska; four of the last six years have been the state’s warmest on record.

Record-breaking heat was also recorded last year throughout the Southeast, with both Georgia and North Carolina experiencing their hottest year ever. Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia also had their second-hottest year.

The economic burdens associated with the climate crisis also became apparent in 2019; the cost of repairing damage and supporting communities which suffered extreme weather events reached $45 billion, more than $1 billion over the yearly average.

Almost half of that cost was due to flooding events, three of which cost more than $1 billion.

In 2019, the U.S. had 14 “billion-dollar disasters,” each costing at least $1 billion. In addition to the floods, eight severe storms, two tropical cyclones, and one wildfire topped $1 billion.

According to NOAA, the number of billion-dollar disasters rose drastically over the past decade. Even after adjusting for inflation, the U.S. spent at least $1 billion to repair the damage of 119 disasters in the 2010s, compared with just 59 in the preceding decade.

NOAA’s ranking of yearly climate extremes placed 2019 in the top third for the 110-year period the agency has on record. The U.S. Climate Extremes Index was 14% higher than average last year, with warm extremes recorded across the Southeast, cold extremes throughout the Midwest, and precipitation extremes throughout much of the Eastern United States. Overall, 2019 was the second-wettest year on record in the U.S., with scientists recording nearly 35 inches of precipitation—4.84 inches above average.

The agency’s report summary garnered the attention of the House Science Committee.

“Americans are put at risk by the serious consequences of the climate crisis,” tweeted the committee. “We must work together to address this global threat.”

The full U.S. Climate Report will be released January 14.

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