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Illustration by Security Management

United States Breaks Billion-Dollar Disaster Record in 2020

In 2020, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the United States experienced 22 $1 billion weather and climate disasters. That outpaced any previous year by six disasters.  The disasters cost $95 billion—the fourth most expensive year for weather and climate disasters on record.

All in all, there were 13 severe storm events, one drought, seven tropical cyclones, and one wildfire event, resulting in 262 deaths.

Since NOAA began tracking billion-dollar disasters in 1980, there have been 285 such events in the United States, with total costs exceeding $1.875 trillion. However, the pace of events has risen in recent years; 2020 is the sixth consecutive year in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather or climate disasters affected the United States. Prior to this period, only 1998, 2008, 2011, and 2012 had 10 or more billion-dollar disasters.

The United States is far from the only country feeling the pressure from increased disaster activity. Natural catastrophes worldwide resulted in $210 billion in damage in 2020—up from $166 billion in 2019, Reuters reported based on an analysis by German reinsurer Munich Re.

“Climate change will play an increasing role in all of these hazards,” said Torsten Jeworrek, a Munich Re board member. “It’s time to act.”

Floods in China were the costliest individual loss in 2020, with $17 billion of damage, but only 2 percent of the damage was insured. Estimates from China were higher—according to Chinese officials, at least 63 million people were affected, 54,000 homes were destroyed, more than 200 people have died or disappeared, and the floods—as of August—caused at least $26 billion in economic losses since they began in June 2020.