7 Climate Disasters That Cost More Than $10 Billion in 2019
The report, published Friday, identified seven disasters that cost $10 billion or more, and 15 disasters that cost more than $1 billion, according to a press summary. That's up from last year, when the group highlighted 10 disasters that cost more than $1 billion and four that cost more than $7 billion.
"If anything 2019 saw even more profound extreme weather events around the world than last year, including wildfires from the Amazon through to the Arctic, devastating out-of-season, simultaneous wildfires in California and Australia, winter heat waves and devastating superstorms," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist professor Michael Mann said in the press release. "With each day now we are seemingly reminded of the cost of climate inaction in the form of ever-threatening climate change-spiked weather extremes."
The group wrote that they likely underestimated the true cost of the disasters they studied because in some cases they could only account for insured losses, not uninsured losses or lost productivity. The report was also published before the cost of Australia's devastating wildfire season could be calculated, The Guardian pointed out.
Here are the seven climate-related disasters that cost $10 billion or more in 2019, according to the report.
- California Wildfires, $25 Billion: The costliest extreme weather events of 2019 included in the report were the wildfires that burned through California in October and November. The area burned in California each year has quintupled since 1972, mostly because higher temperatures have dried forests, creating more fuel for the flames.
- Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, $15 Billion: Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan in October with winds of up to 225 kilometers (approximately 140 miles) per hour. It was one of the strongest storms to pummel the country in decades and killed 98 people. The storm also intensified at the fastest rate in 23 years, and warmer oceans have been linked to more intense storms.
- Midwest and Southern Flooding, $12.5 Billion: The flooding that devastated the Midwestern and Southern U.S. between March and June has been linked to climate change. Warmer air can hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood of extreme rain and snow falls.
- Flooding in China, $12 Billion: Heavy rain from June to August led to massive flooding in southern and eastern China, killing at least 300 people. More rain in China is expected to fall in heavy downpours because of the climate crisis, and parts of the country saw their highest rainfall tallies in almost 60 years.
- Hurricane Dorian, $11.4 Billion: The September hurricane was the second strongest storm on record in the Atlantic and it devastated the Bahamas, costing the country the equivalent of more than a quarter of its gross domestic product. Warmer ocean temperatures made it both more intense and wetter than it would have been otherwise, and led it to intensify more quickly.
- Typhoon Lekima in China, $10 Billion: The typhoon that hit China in August was the fifth most intense to hit the country since 1949. It killed 101 people and was the second most expensive storm in China's history. Like Hagibis and Dorian, it also intensified quickly, a phenomenon linked to warmer temperatures.
- Flooding in North India, $10 Billion: Flooding caused by the heaviest monsoon rains in 25 years swamped Northern India, Bangladesh and Nepal between June and October. The rains killed almost 1,900 people in India alone and displaced more than three million. Climate change makes more extreme rainfall more likely generally, and, in Northern India, rainstorms have increased 50 percent in frequency and 80 percent in duration.
The costliest events weren't necessarily the most devastating or the deadliest. While the floods in Northern India claimed the most lives, Cyclone Idai, which slammed Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar in March, had the next highest death toll. It killed 1,300 people and cost $2 billion. In general, poorer countries suffered higher death tolls while wealthier countries suffered costlier disasters. Three of the four most expensive hit the U.S. and Japan.
Christian Aid said the report showed the importance of acting now to mitigate the climate crisis.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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