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US: Climate disasters set new record at $306bn in 2017

Sixteen extreme weather events in the US last year 'shattered' the 2005 record of $215bn, American weather agency says.

Wildfires in California

Major climate disasters in the United States smashed previous records in 2017 at a cost of $306bn while killing hundreds of people.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Monday the destructive climate events came during the third-warmest year on record for the US.  

At least 362 people died during the climate calamities that included three major hurricanes: Harvey, Maria, and Irma, NOAA said.

"During 2017, the US experienced a historic year of weather and climate disasters," the weather agency said

"The cumulative damage of these 16 US events during 2017 is $306.2bn, which shatters the previous US annual record cost of $214.8bn established in 2005."

Losses from Hurricane Harvey that pounded Texas exceeded $125bn. Harvey ranks second only to Hurricane Katrina, which at $160bn is the costliest storm in the 38 years that records have been kept.

Meanwhile, Hurricanes Maria and Irma had total damages of $90bn and $50bn, respectively. 

Deadly wildfires in nine western US states caused damage totaling $18bn - triple the previous record, the agency said.

Other costly climate events included severe storms, drought, and floods.

Scientists from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information said 2017 was the third-warmest in the United States in 123 years since such data was recorded.

It noted the five warmest years for the United States all have occurred since 2006.

NOAA did not link human-induced climate change to the major disasters that struck last year. However, many scientists argue the burning of greenhouse gasses by humans has played a significant role in the increasing frequency and intensity of climate catastrophes.

A recent report - The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States - noted the number of extreme weather events has surged in recent decades with 21 in the 1980s, 38 in the '90s, and 92 between 2006-16 - more than a two-fold increase.

"Economic losses from extreme weather events are rapidly escalating," the study said.

"Despite the escalating economic losses and costs on lives, health, homes, businesses, and livelihoods, the United States continues to primarily rely on fossil fuels to produce energy - the root cause of climate change."

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