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Canada, U.S. Report Rising Cost, Frequency of Climate-Fuelled Disasters

Hurricane Harvey hits Port Arthur, TX SC National Guard/Wikipedia

Canada and the United States are both beginning to count up the rising annual cost of climate-fuelled natural disasters, with Canada placing the tab at more than C$430 million and the U.S. reporting a doubling in the number of billion-dollar climate- and weather-related events in the last decade.

In Canada, federal data show a sudden jump in the annual cost of natural disasters, The Canadian Press reports [1], with spring flooding and major rainstorms accounting for 80% of the weather episodes that qualified for federal disaster relief.

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“Data from Public Safety Canada lists the average annual bill for disaster assistance at $430 million over the last three years. That includes $485.8 million in 2016-17, $494.9 million in 2017-18 and $309.5 million in 2018-19,” the news agency states.

“In the five years before that, the federal government’s average annual disaster clean-up bills were $360 million, which was three times the average costs in the five years before that.”

And that was just the disaster assistance cost.

“All told, 103 deaths and nearly $3 billion in absolute losses were attributed to extreme weather in Canada in 2018,” CP writes, along with $1.9 billion in insured losses due to weather, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. And “Ottawa’s bill for disasters climbs higher if it includes funding for the Canadian Red Cross to help in emergencies, and spending by the military to assist.”

In December, CP says, a report by Bonn-based Germanwatch placed Canada ninth among the countries most affected by climate change in 2018, with key markers including the hottest-ever summer in the Atlantic, a Quebec heat wave that killed 93 people, the worst-ever wildfire season in British Columbia, and the spring floods the preceded it.

Germanwatch called those incidents “a warning sign that they are at risk of either frequent events or rare, but extraordinary, catastrophes.”

In the U.S., meanwhile, the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reported 14 floods, hurricanes, or wildfires in 2019 with a combined cost of US$45 billion, including tropical cyclones Dorian and Imelda, inland flooding, and one wildfire, Reuters reports [3]. “Between 2010 and 2019, there were 119 disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires with losses exceeding $1 billion. That is more than double the 59 such events experienced between 2000 and 2009, the report said.”

The NCEI listed 2019 as the second-wettest year on record in the contiguous United States. Average temperatures were above the 20th century average, even though it was the coolest year since 2014. Alaska recorded its warmest year on record with an average temperature of 32.2°F/0.1°C, exceeding the long-term average by 6.2°F/3.4°C.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Midwest saw historic spring rainfall and flooding that devastated crops and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. “Record precipitation fell across the northern Plains, Great Lakes, and portions of the central Plains,” the report stated. “Ten of the last twelve 12-month periods were record wet, with the top seven all-time wettest 12-month periods occurring during 2019.”

“The total cost of U.S. billion-dollar disasters over the last five years, from 2015 to 2019, exceeds $525 billion, with a five-year annual cost average of $106.3 billion, both of which are records,” CBS News notes [4], citing the NCEI report. “Even after adjusting for inflation, the U.S. experienced more than twice the number of billion-dollar disasters during the 2010s, when compared to the 2000s.”