By Bobby Magill
As wildfires continued to rip through Northern California’s wine country Wednesday and the death toll continued to rise, images of the blazes’ devastation capped one of the most extraordinary years of climate disasters that North America has ever seen.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria flattened numerous Caribbean islands, submerged Houston, broke rainfall and tropical cyclone intensity records and has left an estimated 94 percent of Puerto Rico without power nearly three weeks after Maria’s landing. It has left the world wondering if the devastation witnessed in 2017 will become more frequent as humans’ greenhouse gas emissions continue to warm the globe.
Tallying up the lost life and property and the toll of the human suffering from the unprecedented 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, the devastating Western wildfire season and the year’s long list of other disasters is dizzying, illustrating the personal and economic effects of climate change.
“We are witnessing the impacts of climate change before our very eyes in the form of unprecedented heat, wildfire, flooding and superstorms,” said Michael Mann, an atmospheric science professor at Penn State University. “The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle.”
Scientists say the root of the year’s crazy, devastating weather is natural, but climate change made the year’s hurricane and wildfire seasons much more damaging.
“Human-produced climate change isn’t expected to make every hurricane season vicious or every fire season catastrophic, but it does add to the potential for trouble when you throw it atop the natural weather and climate variations that can lead to a bad fire year or a bad hurricane year,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist at Weather Underground.
Here’s a look at the crazy numbers of 2017’s climate-related disasters:
$300 billion—A preliminary estimate of the total damages caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — double the cumulative cost of all the decade’s previous hurricanes, according to the Universal Ecological Fund. Official U.S. government estimates of losses from the three hurricanes are still being assessed, and are expected to be released by the end of the year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
10—Number of consecutive Atlantic storms that have developed into hurricanes, the first time that has happened since 1893. That milestone was reached when Ophelia reached hurricane strength on Wednesday, putting her on the list with Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria and Nate.
$5 billion—Puerto Rico relief designated in that package as a loan that the territory must pay back, despite its already staggering debt and the continuing devastation.
$567.5 million—Amount of that package earmarked for the U.S. Forest Service to combat wildfires.
At least 20—The death toll of the Northern California wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties as of late Wednesday. More than 240 people remain missing after hurricane-force winds blew the blazes across wine country, destroying more than 2,000 buildings and scorching over 122,000 acres.
8,502,805 acres—The total number of acres burned by wildfire in the U.S. in 2017 through Oct. 10, making the year’s wildfire season the second-worst of the decade in terms of land area burned. More land — about 8.8 million acres — burned in 2012 than any other year this decade. Over the previous decade, 2006-2016, an average of 6 million acres burned annually, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
$5.1 billion—Total losses from U.S. wildfires in the decade leading up to the 2017 wildfire season, according to Verisk Insurance Solutions. The firm also estimates that 4.5 million homes in the U.S. are it high or extreme risk of wildfire.
$2 billion—NOAA’s estimate of the losses from all of the West’s wildfires burning during July and August. The year’s devastating wildfires were fueled by extreme drought in the Pacific Northwest.
15—Number of weather and climate events with at least $1 billion in damages so far in 2017, according to NOAA.
6.9 million people—The number of people living in an area around Houston that received or 30 or more inches of rainfall, submerging much of the city beneath floodwaters high enough to submerge traffic lights.
2.7 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit—Degrees above normal the water of the Gulf of Mexico registered as Hurricane Harvey approached Houston, fueling the amount of water the storm could hold. The stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that Irma traveled over was up to 2 degrees warmer, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
60.58 inches—Total rainfall from Hurricane Harvey recorded in Nederland, Texas. National Weather Service meteorologist Nikki Hathaway said that rainfall amounts are still being verified, and the agency is still determining whether that rainfall total represents a precipitation record for the continental U.S. A previously reported Harvey rainfall total of 51.88 inches in Cedar Bayou, Texas, was found to be incorrect.
70 percent—Amount of damage from Harvey estimated to be covered by no form of insurance.
37 Hours—Total time Hurricane Irma maintained an intensity of 165 knots or greater, with winds reaching 185 mph or greater, possibly breaking a global record for duration of tropical cyclone intensity. Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist who forecasts hurricanes at Colorado State University, said his research of global cyclone data found that only Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines in 2013, came close to being so intense for so long. Haiyan maintained 165-knot or greater intensity for 24 hours.
50—Days remaining in Atlantic hurricane season.