Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:00 PM GMT on January 17, 2014
Earth set a new record for billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013 with 41, said insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report issued this week. Despite the record number of billion-dollar disasters, weather-related natural disaster losses (excluding earthquakes) were only slightly above average in 2013, and well below what occurred in 2012. That's because 2013 lacked a U.S. mega-disaster like Hurricane Sandy ($65 billion in damage) or the 2012 drought ($30 billion in damage.) The most expensive global disaster of 2013 was the June flood in Central Europe, which cost $22 billion. The deadliest disaster was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed about 8,000 people in the Philippines. Six countries set records for most expensive weather-related disaster in their history, as tabulated by EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, and adjusted for inflation:
Germany, June flooding, $16 billion. Previous record: $15 billion in damage from the August 2002 Elbe River floods.
Philippines, Super Typhoon Haiyan, $13 billion. Previous record: $2.2 billion, August 2013 floods near Manila.
Austria, June flooding, $4 billion. Previous record: $3.1 billion in damage from the August 2002 floods.
Czech Republic, June flooding, $1.5 billion. Previous record: $0.3 billion in damage from the August 2002 floods.
New Zealand, Jan - May Drought, $1.6 billion. Previous record: $0.3 billion, January 2001 heat wave.
Cambodia, Oct - Nov floods, $1 billion. Previous record: $0.5 billion, August 2011 flood.
U.S. sees nine billion-dollar weather disasters
In the U.S., there were nine billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013, which was one below the ten-year average of ten, according to Aon Benfield. NOAA's National Climatic Data Center gave a lower number of U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters in 2013: seven, compared to their average of six billion dollar weather disasters per year over the previous ten years. The seven billion-dollar weather disasters of 2013 marked the 5th highest total of these disasters since 1980. NCDC consistently rates fewer disasters than Aon Benfield as billion-dollar disasters. Billion-dollar events account for roughly 80% of the total U.S. losses for all weather-related disasters.
Forty-one billion dollar weather disasters is a huge number of these highly disruptive events to experience in one year. This is especially so given that 2013 was a neutral El Niño year, and the previous record of 40 billion-dollar weather disasters was set in 2010, when we had both a strong El Niño and a strong La Niña event in the same year. Strong El Niño or La Niña events tend to cause an increase in weather extremes capable of causing major disasters, so seeing 41 disasters in a neutral El Niño year gives me concern that climate change could have been responsible for a portion of this huge tally. However, looking at disaster losses to make an argument that climate change is affecting our weather is a difficult proposition. The increasing trend in weather disaster losses is thought to be primarily due to increases in wealth and population, and to people moving to more vulnerable areas--though the studies attempting to correct damage losses for these factors are highly uncertain. To find evidence of climate change, we are better off looking at how the atmosphere, oceans, and glaciers are changing--and there is plenty of evidence there. I discuss this topic in more detail in a 2012 post, Damage Losses and Climate Change.
Multi-month drought disasters of 2013
Drought Disaster 1. Drought in Central and Eastern China during the first eight months of 2013 caused an estimated $10 billion in damage, making it the 6th most costly weather-related disaster in Chinese history. Here, we see villagers digging deeper for water at a dried-up well at Dabu village on August 13, 2013 in Loudi, China. Drought dried up most rivers and reservoirs in Hunan province, leaving over 3 million people short of drinking water. Image credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.
Drought Disaster 2. Drought in Northeast Brazil during the first five months of 2013 caused an estimated $8 billion in damage, making it Brazil's second most expensive natural disaster in history, behind the $8.2 billion inflation-adjusted cost of the 1978 drought. Here, we see farmers from the Brazilian northeast carrying out a demonstration, holding cattle skulls in front of the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on December 4, 2012. The protesters demand the cancellation of their debts and help from the government to alleviate the effects of the drought. Image credit: Pedro Ladeira/AFP/Getty Images.
Drought Disaster 3. The record U.S. drought of 2012 continued into 2013, bringing record low water levels to the Mississippi River that restricted navigation. Although the drought was less severe than in 2012, it still caused $3.5 billion in damage. This Nov. 28, 2012 photo provided by The United States Coast Guard shows a WWII minesweeper on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, Missouri. The minesweeper, once moored along the Mississippi River as a museum at St. Louis before it was torn away by floodwaters in 1993, is normally completely under water. However, it has become visible--rusted but intact--due to near-record low river levels on the Mississippi in early 2013. (AP Photo/United States Coast Guard, Colby Buchanan.)
Drought Disaster 4. Drought in New Zealand during the first five months of 2013 cost $1.6 billion, and was that nation's most expensive weather-related disaster in history. Image credit: Federated Farmers of New Zealand, via Daniel Corbett of the Meteorological Service of New Zealand Limited.
Disaster 1. A woman talks on her mobile as she travels on a flooded road using an improvised raft in Jakarta on January 23, 2013. Widespread flooding hit Jakarta, Indonesia between January 20 - 27, killing 41 and causing $3.31 billion in damage. This was the 3rd costliest natural disaster in Indonesian history. Image credit: BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
Disaster 2. Widespread flooding, due, in part, to Tropical Cyclone Oswald, hit Queensland, Australia between January 21 - 30, killing six and causing $2.5 billion in damage. The city of Bundaberg had its worst flood disaster in history. Image credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images.
Disaster 1. Mourning doves endure blowing snow on February 24, 2013 during Winter Storm Rocky in Manhattan, Kansas. Rocky killed three and did $1 billion in damage. Image credit: wunderphotographer tomcat.
Disaster 1. Hail up to the size of tennis balls fell on McComb, Mississippi, as documented by wunderphotographer sirencall on March 18, 2013. The hailstorm was part of a severe weather outbreak that cost $2 billion and killed two people.
Disaster 2. Late-season winter weather affected much of Europe throughout the month of March, bringing an extended period of heavy snowfall, sub-freezing temperatures, high winds, ice and flooding. At least 30 fatalities were reported, and damage was estimated at $1.8 billion. Among the hardest-hit areas were northern France, Germany and Ukraine. In this photo taken by wunderphotographer tonylathes on March 24, 2013, we see one of March's heavy snowstorms that affected Wardlow Village in Derbyshire, United Kingdom. March 2013 was the 2nd coldest March in the U.K. since 1910, exceeded only by March 1962.
Disaster 1. A large storm system brought hurricane-force wind gusts across parts of California and the rest of the West on April 7 - 8, and spawned heavy snowfall in the Rockies and the High Plains. The storm brought severe thunderstorms, hail, high winds, and tornadoes across the Plains, Midwest and Southeast through April 11, with at least 23 tornado touchdowns, including an EF-3 twister with 145 mph (230 kph) winds in eastern Mississippi. Total damage was estimated at $1.75 billion, and three people were killed. In this image, we see damage from a tornado in Shuqualak, Mississippi, taken by wunderphotographer richardlove310.
Disaster 2. Severe flooding in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April, 3, 2013 submerged half the city in waters up to 2 meters (6.6') deep. The flooding killed 86 and did $1.3 billion in damage. The 400 millimeters (15.74 inches) of rain that fell in just two hours in the La Plata region was more than the city had ever recorded during an entire month of April. Image credit: focolare.org.
Disaster 1. Flipped vehicles are piled up outside the heavily damaged Moore Medical Center in Moore, Oklahoma, after an EF-5 tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013. A Midwest tornado outbreak on May 18 - May 22 killed 29 people and cost $3.75 billion, making it the most costly weather-related disaster in the U.S. during 2013. Image credit: Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Disaster 2. The Weather Channel's Mike Bettes and crew caught this image of the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado--the largest tornado ever recorded, with a diameter of 2.6 miles--before the tornado caught them and rolled their vehicle on May 31, 2013. The tornado, rated an EF-5 based on mobile Doppler wind data, but an EF-3 based on the damage it caused, killed tornado scientists/storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young. The May 26 - June 2 tornado outbreak that the El Reno tornado was a part of killed 27 and did $2.25 billion in damage.
Disaster 1. Aerial view of the flooded Danube River in Deggendorf, Germany on Friday, June 7, 2013. A historic $22 billion dollar flood disaster killed 25 people in Central Europe after flooding unprecedented since the Middle Ages hit major rivers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Slovakia in late May and early June. The Danube River in Passau, Germany hit the highest level since 1501, and the Saale River in Halle, Germany was the highest in its 400-year period of record. This was Earth's most expensive weather disaster of 2013. AP Photo/Armin Wegel.
Disaster 2. The closed Trans-Canada Highway in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, along Cougar Creek on Friday June 21, 2013. Torrential rains between June 19 - 24 triggered flooding that cost $5.3 billion and killed four people in Alberta. It was the third most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, behind the 1977 drought (inflation-adjusted $11.6 billion) and the January - August 1989 wildfires ($7.9 billion.) Image credit: The Canadian Press.
Disaster 3. Torrential monsoon rains triggered deadly flash floods and landslides in India's Himalayan Uttarakhand region on June 17. The damage was $1.91 billion and 6748 people died, making the flood Earth's second deadliest weather-related disaster of 2013, behind Super Typhoon Haiyan. In this image, we see the Kedarnath Temple (center, foreground) after a landslide ripped through on June 18. Image credit: STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 4. A man looks at cars on a mud-covered street on June 20, 2013 in Bareges, southwestern France, two days after unseasonal storms caused havoc across huge swaths of the country. Severe thunderstorms spawned tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flash flooding across France and northern Spain on June 18 - 19, killing three and doing $1.25 billion in damage. Image credit: LAURENT DARD/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 1. Heavy flood waters sweep through Beichuan in southwest China's Sichuan province on July 9, 2013. Rainfall amounts as high as 1,150 millimeters (45.3 inches) of rain fell in the Dujiangyan region, triggering Sichuan Province's worst floods in at least 50 years. Flooding in China from July 7 - 17, 2013 cost at least $4.5 billion and killed 125 people. Image credit: AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 2. Two men remove the debris after a tree fell on a car on July 29, 2013 in Nice, French Riviera, following violent storms overnight in southern France. Severe thunderstorms affected northern Germany and France July 27 - 28, spawning up to tennis ball-sized hail and causing damages of $4.25 billion. Image credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 3. Cars stranded on the DVP, one of Toronto's busiest highways, on Monday, July 8, 2013. Flooding in Toronto and vicinity from torrential rains on July 8 cost $1.65 billion. Photo posted to Twitter by Michelle Shephard@shephardm.
Disaster 4. Excessive rainfall brought renewed flooding across China between July 21 - 25, killing at least 36 people and causing $1.4 billion in damage. The rains were most significant in Shaanxi Province, from overflowing rivers and landslides. In this picture from July 23, 2013, people watch on the edge of the Xiaolangdi Reservoir in central China's Henan Province Yellow River floodwaters are released. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 5. Rescuers evacuate residents from flood-hit areas on July 2, 2013 in Chongqing, China. Multiple days of torrential rainfall swept across parts of southwestern, central, eastern, and northern China between June 29 and July 3, killing 55 people and causing $1.4 billion in damage. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), a combined 125,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and more than 150,000 hectares (370,650 acres) of cropland were submerged. Image credit: ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.
Disaster 1. Northeast China saw record flooding in August which killed 118 people and cost $5 billion. In this photo, workers use an excavator to clean up mud after heavy rain hit on August 19, 2013 in Fushuan, in the Liaoning Province of China. The Nei River overflowed, killing 54 and leaving 97 missing in Fushuan. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images.
Disaster 2. Typhoon Utor approaches the Philippines in this 375 meter-resolution IR image taken by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi satellite at 04:34 UTC August 11, 2013. At the time, Utor was a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds. Utor killed 86 people in China and did $2.6 billion in damage, and also did $33 million in damage in the Philippines. Image credit: Dan Lindsey, NOAA Center for Satellite Applications and Research, Fort Collins.
Disaster 3. Torrential rains, due, in part, to moisture from Typhoon Trami, fell in the Philippines August 18 - 21, causing massive flooding on Luzon Island that cost $2.2 billion. Twenty-seven people were killed, and 60% of metro Manila was under water at the peak of the flood. According to EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, this was the most expensive natural disaster in Philippine history (until exceeded by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November.) In this photo, pedicabs and makeshift rafts ferry office workers and pedestrians through flood waters that submerged parts of the financial district of Makati on August 20, 2013 in Makati City south of Manila, Philippines. Image credit: Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)
Disaster 4. In Pakistan, torrential monsoon rains caused significant flooding that affected 5,739 villages. At least 234 people were killed, 63,180 homes were damaged or destroyed, and 1.4 million acres (567,000 hectares) of crops were submerged. Damage was estimated at $2 billion, and was Pakistan's 4th costliest weather-related disaster in history. Pakistan's four most expensive weather-related disasters in its history have been floods that occurred in the past four consecutive years. In this photo, Pakistani residents hold onto a rope as they evacuate a flooded area in Karachi on August 4, 2013. Image credit: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 5. A severe weather outbreak in the U.S. Plains and Midwest August 5 - 7 brought baseball sized hail and thunderstorm wind gusts over 80 mph to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Two people were killed, and damage was estimated at $1.25 billion. In this photo, a severe thunderstorm closes in on Edgemont, South Dakota, on August 7. Image credit: wunderphotographer ninjalynn.
Disaster 6. Russian President Vladimir Putin inspects a flooded area from a helicopter flying over Russia's Far Eastern Amur region, on August 29, 2013. Russia experienced its costliest flood disaster in history beginning on August 4, when the Amur and Zeya rivers along the Chinese border overflowed, flooding 1.7 million acres, damaging or destroying over 11,500 buildings. The $1 billion in damage made it the 4th most expensive natural disaster of any kind in Russian history. Image credit: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 1. Hurricane Manuel made two landfalls along Mexico's Pacific coast, generating flooding that caused $4.2 billion in damage and left 169 people dead or missing. According to EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, this was the second most expensive weather-related disaster in Mexican history, behind the $6 billion in damage (2013 dollars) wrought by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. In this aerial view, we see the landslide triggered by Hurricane Manuel's rains that killed 43 people in La Pintada, México, on September 19, 2013. Image credit: http://www.novedadesacapulco.mx/.
Disaster 2. Super Typhoon Usagi made landfall near Shanwei, China on September 22, 2013 as a Category 2 typhoon with 110 mph winds, after skirting the Philippines and Tawian. The storm killed at least 47 people and did $3.8 billion in damage. Property damage was widespread in five Chinese provinces as Usagi damaged at least 101,200 homes. This radar image of Usagi shows that the typhoon had multiple concentric eyewalls as it approached landfall. Image credit: weather.com.cn.
Disaster 3. Record rainfall of 8 - 15" triggered historic flash flooding across in Colorado September 11 - 12, 2013, killing at least nine people and doing $2 billion in damage. The most significant damage occurred in Boulder, Larimer and El Paso counties after several major rivers and creeks crested at all-time highs. The Office of Emergency Management reported that nearly 20,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in addition to thousands of businesses and other structures. One person was also killed by flooding in New Mexico. In this image, we see damage to Highway 34 along the Big Thompson River, on the road to Estes Park, Colorado. Image credit: Colorado National Guard.
Disaster 4. Category 1 Hurricane Ingrid weakened to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds before hitting Mexico about 200 miles south of the Texas border on September 16, 2013. Ingrid's heavy rains triggered flooding that killed 23 and did $1.5 billion in damage, making the storm the 7th costliest tropical cyclone in Mexican history. In this image, we see Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid laying siege to Mexico on September 15, 2013. Tropical Storm Manuel came ashore on the Pacific coast near Manzanillo on the afternoon of September 15, and Ingrid followed suit from the Atlantic on September 16. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.
Disaster 5. A series of killing freezes during the second half of September led to extensive agricultural damage in central Chile. A state of emergency was declared after farmers reported that frigid air had destroyed 61% of stoned fruit crops, 57% of almonds, 48% of kiwi crops, and 20% of table grapes. Heavy damage to vineyards also affected wine productivity. Total damage was estimated at $1.15 billion, making it the costliest weather-related disaster in Chile's history.
Disaster 1. Category 2 Typhoon Fitow hit the southern Japanese Islands on October 4, killing two people. Fitow weakened to a tropical storm and made landfall in China just north of Taiwan on October 7, dumping torrential rains that caused $10.4 billion in damage and killed six. In this MODIS image from 02:15 UTC October 5, 2013, Category 2 Typhoon Fitow is approaching China. Image credit: NASA.
Disaster 2. Winter Storm "Christian" hit the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia on October 28, killing 18 and causing at least $2 billion in damage. A new all-time wind speed record in Denmark of 192.6 kph (120 mph) was measured that day at Kegnæs on the Baltic Sea, close to the German border. In this image, large waves break against the dyke at the entrance of the port of Boulogne, northern France, on October 28, 2013. Image credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 3. Tropical Cyclone Phailin hit the northeast coast of India on October 12, 2013 as a weakening Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds. Due to strong preparedness efforts by India, the storm killed only 46 people, in a location where 10,000 people had been killed by a similar-strength cyclone in 1999. Damage from Phailin was estimated at $1.1 billion, making it the 6th most expensive tropical cyclone in India's history (adjusted for inflation.) In this image taken at approximately 4:30 UTC on October 11, 2013, Phailin fills the Bay of Bengal as a top-end Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph. Image credit: NASA.
Disaster 1. Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Central Philippines on November 8, 2013, as one of the strongest tropical cyclones in world history, with peak surface winds estimated at 195 mph by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Haiyan killed over 7,700 people and did at least $13 billion in damage, making it the costliest and deadliest disaster in Philippine history, and Earth's deadliest natural disaster of 2013. In this image, we see an infrared VIIRS image of the eye of Haiyan taken at 16:19 UTC November 7, 2013. At the time, Haiyan was at peak strength with 195 mph sustained winds. Image credit: NOAA/CIRA.
Disaster 2. The most expensive November tornado outbreak on record hit the U.S. on November 17, killing ten and causing damage estimated at $1.6 billion. This image shows an aerial view of Washington, Illinois on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, after an EF-4 tornado tore through the area, one of three EF-4 tornadoes from the outbreak. AP Photo/Alex Kareotes.
Disaster 3. Heavy monsoon rains caused the Mekong River in Cambodia to overflow its banks in October and November 2013, causing $1 billion in damage and killing 188. According to the International Disaster Database, EM-DAT, this would make the disaster Cambodia's most expensive and 6th deadliest natural disaster in its history. In this photo, we see Cambodian children swimming in flood waters at a village in Kandal province on October 7, 2013. Photo credit: TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images.
Disaster 1. Winter Storm Xaver brought extreme winds and the second highest storm surge of the past 200 years to Northern Germany. The storm killed 15 and did $1.5 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a 14 meter (46') high, 1000 kilogram (2200 lb) Tyrannosaurus replica that was standing in front of the German climate museum Klimahaus in Bremehaven, which had the bolts which connected its base plate to the ground sheared off by the force of Xaver's winds. A peak wind gust of 78 mph (126 kph) was recorded in Bremerhaven during the storm. Image credit: Christine Sollmann and Michael Theusner of Klimahaus.
Disaster 2. Some of the worst flooding in 90 years affected parts of southeastern Brazil during the second half of December, killing at least 48 people and doing $1.4 billion in damage. Here, we see an aerial view of a flooded area in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo state, Brazil, on December 27, 2013. Image credit: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images.
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