Cost of Extreme Weather
Global warming is quickly changing weather patterns and causing increasingly
extreme weather events globally.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and heavy flooding rains continue to cause havoc in the
USA. While some Americans have a paranoid fear of terrorism, extreme weather
events cause more costly damage, more often than any terrorist could imagine.
Pacific hurricanes (aka cyclones) create increasing
damage and death in the Pacific Islands and the coastal areas of Asia and
Australia. Pacific cyclones caused large waves, heavy rain, flooding
and high winds. Storm surges; cause damage to coastal communities and
90% of tropical cyclone deaths. Over the past two centuries, tropical cyclones
have been responsible for the deaths of about 1.9 million people worldwide.
Large areas of standing water caused by flooding lead to infection, as well as
contributing to mosquito-borne illnesses. When ocean water floods the land,
salts are left behind. Increased salinity levels in surface water makes it
undrinkable and increased salt in water and soils is toxic to plants.
Hurricane Andrew destroyed over 28,000 homes in August 1992. Hurricanes Jeanne, Ivan, Frances and
Charley in 2004 destroyed 27,500 housing units. The Southern US was attacked by
17 major storms during the 2005 hurricane season. Hurricane Katrina did
extensive damage in August 2005 to the Gulf coast of the US. Early damage costs;
were estimated at $150 billion, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.
Hurricane Rita soon followed on Sept 24 and became the most intense hurricane in
the Gulf of Mexico but caused less damage, because it made landfall in less
populated areas -- no consolation to the people in Texas and Louisiana who
suffered a direct hit. Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 damaged a wide swath of
the east coast and became the second-costliest hurricane in United States
history. Estimates as of 2015 assessed damage cost at $75 billion. At least 233 people were killed along
the path of the storm in eight countries.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was the most expensive ever. In August 2017 Hurricane Harvey came
ashore in Texas and Louisiana causing massive wind and flood damage. Houston was
severely damaged. Harvey was followed by Hurricane Irma, Jose and Maria that
caused expensive damage to the northern Caribbean Islands, especially Puerto
Rico. Irma ravaged Florida. Early estimates of the direct cost of damage rose as
high as 300 billion USD.
Forest Fires are increasing every year with increasing costs and environmental
Insurance companies are either increasing rates and
refusing coverage for properties at risk. Hurricane Andrew caused 16.5 billion
dollars in insured losses, bankrupting some smaller insurance companies. The UN
panel on climate change has estimated that windstorm damage increased from $500
million in the 60's to over $11 billion in the 90's and the annual bill in the
21st century will be hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Before 1987,
storms had never caused insured losses exceeding $1 billion.
Canada’s insurance industry is calling on all levels of government to improve
climate-change preparedness, after a record-breaking year of damage caused by
natural disasters. The Insurance Bureau of Canada says $4.9 billion in insurable
damage was caused by natural disasters such as wildfires, floods and ice storms
across the country in 2016. It’s the most ever in a single year. Damage costs
have increased steadily since the 1980s, says the IBC.
They are expected to
keep growing.“The record damage reported in 2016 is part of an upward trend that
shows no signs of stopping,” said IBC Don Forgeron in a written statement.
“That is why Canada’s . . . insurance industry is calling on governments
across the country to come together and implement expansive climate policies
that will better prepare Canadians and their communities for when disasters
strike. A paradigm shift has to occur from the provincial, municipal and
federal levels, so that we can all work together to mitigate or prevent
(disaster damage) from occurring ."
The wildfires that devastated Fort
McMurray, Alta. in May 2016, did about $3.7 billion in insurable damage. The
year also saw severe rain and flooding in Atlantic Canada and Windsor, Ont., and
its surrounding areas. Dave Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment
Canada, said extreme weather events, such as rainstorms, are becoming more
frequent and more intense and are lasting longer. Weather records are being
smashed as they never have before. “
(Peter Goffin. Natural disasters,
insurers report. At $4.9 billion, 2016 broke record for damage Record set for
insurable damage caused by natural disasters such as wildfires, floods and ice
storms, Insurance Bureau of Canada says. Toronto Star Jan 9 2017.)
In the USA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has
declared that 2017 is the second most extreme year, weather-wise, in the past
century. Lowery wrote:” Extreme weather has taken a devastating and unknowable
human toll, on families from San Juan to San Francisco. And it has taken
economic one as well. It now seems a near-certainty that 2017 will be the most
expensive year in American history in terms of natural disasters—and a preview
of the trillions of dollars of costs related to climate change yet to come. The
effect is perhaps clearest in terms of property damage, in the United States’
territories as well as in the states, with governments, insurers, and
individuals counting up the losses from burned and torn-apart homes, flooded
cars, downed bridges, destroyed electrical grids, and shuttered hospitals.”
(Annie Lowery. The most expensive weather year ever. The Atlantic Dec 25 2017.)
Political action should swift and definitive, but of course, it is not.
Politicians are short-term administrators who tend to be inexperienced and
poorly informed. In all fairness to politicians, some of them began their
careers with high hopes of improving the world, but discovered as they matured
in politics that they could only court the favor of those with vested interests,
power, money and influence. The realist might say that the politician can only
do what is political expedient and this usually means what is in his or her best
interest in the next two to four years. The task of leading fellow Homo Sapiens
from a self-destructive path requires an intelligent consensus and leadership
from compassionate superheroes who think in terms of centuries, even millennia.