The year 2017 was the costliest ever for weather and climate disasters in the United States, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday, totaling $306 billion. The previous record year, 2005, saw $215 billion in disasters.
Three storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria all landed in the top five on NOAA’s updated list of the costliest U.S. tropical cyclones, released last week.
Highlighted by a string of hurricanes that pounded the southeastern U.S. coast in August and September, as well as devastating wildfires that torched large swaths of Northern and Southern California, 2017 saw 16 weather events that each topped a billion dollars in damage.
This ties 2011 for the most billion-dollar weather events to occur in a single year, but their extreme nature and the breadth of disaster types really set last year apart.
“In 2017, we have seen the rare combination of high disaster frequency, disaster cost and diversity of weather and climate extreme events,” said Adam Smith, lead researcher at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
“The U.S. has endured billion-dollar impacts from six of the seven disaster categories we track,” he said: drought, flood, freeze, severe storm, tropical cyclone, wildfire and winter storm. There hasn’t been a year when all seven disaster categories have seen a billion-dollar disaster.
2017 lacked only a billion-dollar winter storm — though we almost certainly had one in the first week of 2018 with the major nor’easter termed a “bomb cyclone.”
A hurricane season for the record books
Hurricanes are the costliest weather events, responsible for about half of the total losses among all U.S. billion-dollar disasters despite accounting for less than 20% of the total events since 1980.
This certainly proved true in 2017, when the U.S. and the Caribbean islands endured back-to-back-to-back devastating hurricanes — all of them now ranking among the top five costliest disasters — which were the main drivers behind the year becoming the costliest on record.
Here are the top ten costliest U.S. hurricanes (adjusted for inflation):
This aerial view shows a church damaged by hurricane Rita in Beaumont, Texas, 25 September 2005. Hurricane Rita pounded the US Gulf Coast, leaving widespread damage and more than one million people without power, but failed to deliver the feared repeat of hurricane Katrina’s devastation four weeks ago. (HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
10. Rita (2005)
Southwest Louisiana, North Texas
Judy Caseley retrieves photographs from a friend’s trailer that were damaged when Hurricane Wilma hit earlier in the morning October 24, 2005 in Chokoloskee, Florida. Wilma slammed into the South Florida coastline as a strong Category 3 hurricane. Caseley’s neighbor left in a hurry, leaving behind a lifetime of memories that Caseley felt she had to salvage. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
9. Wilma (2005)
U.S. President George W. Bush walks with Orange Beach, Alabama, Mayor Steve Russo, past a destroyed condos on the Alabama beachfront as he visits the area, consoling victims, 19 September 2004, from Hurricane Ivan, the third hurricane to hit the larger area in the past month. Ivan’s devastating 12-day rampage that left at least 108 dead in the United States and the Caribbean. (PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
8. Ivan (2004)
Alabama, Northwest Florida
In this handout provided by the U.S. Air Force, an Air Force Reserve pararescueman from the 920th Rescue Wing scans the landscape of Nederland, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, 13 September 2008. Deployed with aircrews and aircraft from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., the pararescuemen rescued 17 people Sept. 13 from the small Texas town. (Photo by Paul Flipse/US Air Force via Getty Images)
7. Ike (2008)
A group of people sift 28 August 1992 through the rubble of a house that was directly in the path of a 26 August tornado spawned by Hurricane Andrew. Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards has estimated property damage from the hurricane from 70 to 100 million US dollars, and at least 200 million US dollars in damage to the sugar crop. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
6. Andrew (1992)
Southeast Florida, Louisiana
Destroyed trailers wait to be cleaned up at the Sunshine Key RV Resort where residents are still not allowed on September 16, 2017 in Marathon, Florida. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that 25 percent of all homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed and 65 percent sustained major damage when they took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Angel Valentin/Getty Images)
5. Irma (2017)
Cars piled on top of each other at the entrance to a garage on South Willliam Street in Lower Manhattan October 31, 2012 in New York as the city begins to clean up after Hurricane Sandy. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
4. Sandy (2012)
Mid-Atlantic & Northeast
Members of the U.S. Army 1st Special Forces Command deliver boxes of M.R.E’s and water up a makeshift ladder to people that were cut off after the bridge collapsed when Hurricane Maria swept through the island on October 5, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. The neighborhood was cut off from help for about 2 weeks after the category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
3. Maria (2017)
Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
Residents evacuate by boat on September 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the city. Harvey was the first Category 4 storm to make landfall in the US since Hurricane Charley in 2004, unleashing record rainfall that quickly flooded the city. (Getty)
2. Harvey (2017)
Flood waters from Hurricane Katrina cover a cemetery 30 August, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (POOL/AFP/Getty Images)