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US hits record for costly weather disasters: $306 billion

By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306 billion.

The U.S. had 16 disasters last year with damage exceeding a billion dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday. That meant 2017 tied  2011 for having the highest number of billion-dollar disasters; as for the total cost, last year’s figure blew past the previous record of $215 billion, set in 2005.

The NOAA’s data are adjusted for inflation. The agency keeps track of billion-dollar weather disasters going back to 1980.

Three of the five most expensive hurricanes in U.S. history hit last year.

Highways around downtown Houston appear empty as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from the bayous around the city in Houston. With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, weather disasters brought a record-high repair bill to the U.S. last year: $306 billion. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Highways around downtown Houston appear empty as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from nearby bayous. With three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, weather disasters brought a record-high repair bill to the U.S. last year: $306 billion. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Hurricane Harvey cost $125 billion, second only to Katrina in 2005, and Maria cost $90 billion, ranking third, NOAA said. Irma cost $50 billion, making it the fifth most-expensive hurricane. Western wildfires fanned by heat racked up $18 billion in damage, tripling the previous record set for U.S. wildfires, according to NOAA.

“While we have to be careful about knee-jerk cause-effect discussions, the National Academy of Science and recent peer-reviewed literature continue to show that some of today’s extremes have climate change fingerprints on them,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society.

The NOAA announced its figures at the society’s annual conference in Austin, Texas.

The weather agency also said that 2017 was the third hottest year in U.S. records for the Lower 48 states, having an average annual temperature of 54.6 degrees — 2.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century average . Only 2012 and 2016 were warmer. The five warmest years for the Lower 48 states have all happened since 2006.

This was the third straight year that all 50 states had above-average temperatures for the year.

Five states — Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Mexico — had their warmest year ever.

These temperature records go back to 1895.

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