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2017 Most Expensive Year for US Natural Disasters


2017 Most Expensive Year for Natural Disasters
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2017 Most Expensive Year for Natural Disasters

Three major hurricanes pushed the bill for natural disasters to record levels last year, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A total of 16 disasters caused an estimated $306 billion in damage in 2017.

Hurricane Harvey was the most costly. Up to a meter and a half of rain flooded Houston and other parts of Texas, leaving $125 billion worth of destruction. Only 2005's Hurricane Katrina did more damage.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria added another $140 billion, making 2017 the most expensive hurricane season on record.

It was also the most expensive year for wildfires. Blazes in California and other western states racked up another $18 billion in damage.

FILE - Flames from a wildfire consume a residence near Oroville, California, July 9, 2017.
FILE - Flames from a wildfire consume a residence near Oroville, California, July 9, 2017.

Five states broke temperature records last year. Nationwide, it was the third-warmest year on record.

The report does not try to identify the role of climate change in the record-breaking disasters. Part of the reason for the growing price tag of disasters is that more and more people are moving into flood- and fire-prone areas.

"In any given year, much of [the cost variation] comes down to what kind of hazard struck what kinds of assets and how valuable those were," said Deke Arndt, head of monitoring at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information.

But overall, he added, heat waves are getting hotter, longer and more common. "That's clearly related to an increase in heat-related disasters that we've seen."

And intense rainstorms are happening more frequently. "That is related somewhat to the increase in flooding disasters that we've seen," Arndt said.

Losses from three U.S. hurricanes made 2017 the third-costliest year for insurers, according to insurance company Swiss Re. Out of a global total of $136 billion in insured property damage last year, Harvey, Irma and Maria caused $93 billion.

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    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

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