Science

‘Climate change catastrophes’ affected 1 in 10 American homes in 2021

Natural disasters related to climate change that each caused more than $1 billion in damage harmed roughly 1 out of every 10 homes in the United States last year, according to a new report from the property research organization CoreLogic. In total, the 20 “climate change catastrophes” hit 14.5 million homes and caused nearly $57 billion worth of property damage.

This is even costing homeowners whose houses haven’t yet been affected, as insurance premiums rise to cover likely future losses. “From 2017 to 2020, the total written premium in the state of California for dwelling fire and homeowners’ insurance combined has increased by more than 27 percent, from $8.7 [billion] to $11.1 billion,” CoreLogic said.

Los Angeles County fire crews battle a brush fire in the foothills of Azusa, Calif.

Los Angeles County fire crews battle a brush fire in the foothills of Azusa. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The greatest number of homes were harmed by the winter storms in 2021 that battered a swath of the Midwest and South, most famously causing a long blackout in Texas. More than 12.7 million homes were affected, causing over $15 billion in property damage from problems such as flooding and burst pipes.

The biggest economic impacts were felt from hurricanes, which caused $33 billion in damage to 1.23 million homes. Hurricane Ida, for example, a Category 4 storm with winds of up to 150 mph, landed in Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It went on to cause deadly floods all the way up to New York.

Approximately 564,000 homes suffered $7.46 billion in property damage from other extreme weather occurrences such as tornadoes. And in the Western half of the country, as well as in Appalachia, wildfires were a problem throughout the summer, affecting more than 4,000 homes and leading to $1.46 billion in property damage.

While it is difficult to say that any given extreme weather event would or would not have happened without climate change, science is increasingly clear on exactly how much the risk of these events has been worsened by rising temperatures. Studies have shown that increased water evaporation increases the risk of droughts and wildfires, and causes more intense storms with stronger winds and heavier rains. Research has also explained the connection between climate change and more intense cold snaps in the winter due to shifts in the Gulf Stream and the polar vortex. Even the tornadoes that swept through the Midwest in December — the deadliest December tornado outbreak in history — were influenced by climate change.

An empty Madera Canal, located at the base of the Friant Dam and Millerton Lake north of Fresno, Calif.

An empty Madera Canal, located at the base of the Friant Dam and Millerton Lake north of Fresno, Calif. (George Rose/Getty Images)

For this reason, experts are growing reluctant to call these events “natural disasters,” as the term falsely implies that they weren’t caused by human activity. “What turns a natural hazard into a catastrophe or a disaster is in most cases very far from natural, but driven by vulnerability and exposure, which is human-made to a large degree,” Friederike Otto, the co-lead of World Weather Attribution , a nonprofit research organization, told the Washington Post.

The report’s estimates of damage are based on data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and are lower than the actual total costs, as they do not include minimal damage to homes that are not reported to insurers or any government agency, or other costs associated with extreme weather, such as job losses. CoreLogic noted that in the Houma, La., area, which was hit by Ida on Aug. 29, the mortgage delinquency rate nearly doubled from 7.4 percent in August to 13.3 percent in September, suggesting that the storm caused a number of people to be unable to make their monthly payments.

“These loss assessments do not take into account losses to natural capital or assets, healthcare related losses, or values ​​associated with loss of life,” NOAA’s website notes. “Therefore, our estimates should be considered conservative with respect to what is truly lost, but cannot be completely measured.”

Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades. Step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

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