Inland Flooding Leads List of Climate Disasters That Cost $46B in 2016

Climate-based disasters caused $46 billion in damage and killed at least 138 in the 48 contiguous U.S. states last year, with inland flooding emerging as the costliest weather event for the first time since 1997.

The number of billion-dollar occurrences was the second-highest since 1980, with one less than the 16 in 2011, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. It was also the second warmest year behind 2012 over 122 years, and the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year.

The seven types of disasters noted in the yearly report – including droughts, hurricanes and winter storms – are closely watched by scientists and industries to gauge how changing patterns affect people’s lives. Storms and rising seas have opened discussions on whether, and how, to build on coastal areas, and who pays in the event of a disaster. Warmer temperatures can have profound effects on both energy and agriculture.

“We have not arrived in our climate of the future, but we have certainly left our climate of the past,” said Deke Arndt, chief of the National Centers’ climate monitoring branch. “Our institutions will need to use this information — and the details within it — to make better bottom-line decisions.”

The year was notable for its widespread warmth, with virtually all states having annual average temperatures in the top 10 percent on record, the report said. The average annual temperature was 54.9 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 Celsius), or 2.9 degrees above the 20th century average.

Alaska had its warmest year on record with an average annual temperature of 31.9 degrees, 1.6 degrees warmer than its previous high set in 2014.

Rising Precipitation

Beyond the temperature data, the 48 states had the fourth straight year of above-average precipitation. Average annual precipitation was 31.7 inches (80.5 centimeters), or 1.76 inches above the long-term average. Researchers have long said the warmer the world becomes the more moisture the atmosphere will carry.

Floodwater surrounds a home in Prairieville, La. (Photo by J.T. Blatty/FEMA)

It was the first time that more than two inland flooding events caused losses exceeding $1 billion each. Hurricane Matthew in October and flooding in Louisiana in August topped the 2016 list causing $10 billion in damage each. Matthew killed 49 people in the U.S., while 13 died in Louisiana’s floods.

In April, Houston was hit by flooding that killed eight people and cost an estimated $2.7 billion, according to the agency. At least 1,300 roads and bridges were washed out in West Virginia by flooding there in June.