US hits record for costly weather disasters: $306 billion

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Trees bend in the tropical storm wind along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard as Hurricane Irma hits the southern part of the state September 10, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The powerful hurricane made landfall in the United States in the Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m. after raking across the north coast of Cuba. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306 billion.

The U.S. had 16 disasters last year with damage exceeding a billion dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday. That ties 2011 for the number of billion-dollar disasters, but the total cost blew past the previous record of $215 billion in 2005.

Costs are adjusted for inflation and NOAA keeps track of billion-dollar weather disasters going back to 1980.

Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history hit last year.

Hurricane Harvey cost $125 billion, second only to 2005’s Katrina, while Maria cost $90 billion, ranking third, NOAA said. Irma was $50 billion, for the fifth most expensive hurricane. Western wildfires fanned by heat racked up $18 billion in damage, triple the previous U.S. wildfire record, according to NOAA.

“While we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to show that some of today’s extremes have climate change fingerprints on them,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society.

NOAA announced its figures at the society’s annual conference in Austin, Texas.

The weather agency also said that 2017 was the third hottest year in U.S. records for the Lower 48 states with an annual temperature of 54.6 degrees (12.6 degrees Celsius) — 2.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average . Only 2012 and 2016 were warmer. The five warmest years for the Lower 48 states have all happened since 2006.

This was the third straight year that all 50 states had above average temperatures for the year.

Five states — Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Mexico — had their warmest year ever.

Temperature records go back to 1895.

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