2023 severe weather: $57 billion in damage and 253 people dead so far

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Debris covers a residential area in Perryton, Texas, Thursday, June 15, 2023, after a tornado struck the town.

David Erickson | AP

The U.S. has suffered the highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters on record this year with wildfires and severe storms wreaking havoc from Hawaii to Florida, according to a report released by the federal government Monday.

The nation has been hit by 23 such disasters so far in 2023, the highest number since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started keeping records in 1980. The previous record was set in 2020 with 22 separate disasters that each caused a billion or more dollars in damage.

The 23 disasters this year have caused more than $57.6 billion in damage and killed at least 253 people, according to the NOAA report.

The deadliest wildfire in more than a century ravaged West Maui, Hawaii in August, killing at least 115 people and causing up to $6 billion in estimated damages. Just weeks later, Hurricane Idalia made landfall on Florida’s Big Bend coast, the strongest hurricane to hit the region in 125 years.

The number of billion-dollar weather disasters has been increasing since 1980. On average, there were 8 such disasters every year from 1980-2022. In the most recent five years, there have been 18 such disasters annually on average, according to NOAA.

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The back-to-back disasters have raised concerns about whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency has enough money left to respond adequately as hurricane season enters it peak.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said last month that the federal disaster fund is down to the last $3.4 billion, forcing the agency to focus on the immediate needs of people impacted by the Maui wildfires, Hurricane Idalia and other disasters that may strike in the near term.

Criswell said the disaster fund would go into the red by the middle of this month in the absence of additional money. The Biden administration has asked Congress for $16 billion to replenish the fund.

President Joe Biden attributed the growing number of severe weather events to climate change: “I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore,” Biden said last month during remarks at the White House after Idalia made landfall.

“Just look around — historic floods, more intense droughts, extreme heat, significant wildfires have caused significant damage like we’ve never seen before,” Biden said.

The president called on Congress to act swiftly on additional FEMA funding.

“We need this money done. We need this disaster relief request met and we need to do it in September — we can’t wait,” Biden told FEMA personnel during a visit to the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. last month.

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