Extreme Weather and Climate Change: North America Tops the List

Today, the world’s largest reinsurance company released a report stating the number of weather catastrophes has risen dramatically across the globe since 1980.

“North America is the continent with the largest increase in disasters,” Munich Re’s Dr. Peter Roder is quoting as saying in a front page story in USA Today.

“Nowhere in the world is the rising number of annual natural catastrophes more evident than in North America,” the report’s Executive Summary states (the study is not publicly available yet, but we were able to obtain a copy). These events include tornadoes, searing heat and drought, hurricanes and floods.

Munich Re calls its findings the first “footprint” of climate change in natural disaster data. The report is titled “Severe Weather in North America: Perils, Risks, Insurance” and is aimed at regular insurance companies, clients and investors.

Reinsurance companies insure regular insurance firms, making them the ones left holding the bag when it comes to events with huge amounts of claims.

According to USA Today, the full Munich RE report finds:

  • Insured losses in the USA due to thunderstorms alone in 2011 were the highest on record at an estimated $26 billion, more than double the previous record set in 2010.
  • Insured losses from disasters globally averaged $9 billion a year in the 1980s. By the 2000s, the average soared to $36 billion per year. The costliest weather disasters in the USA since 1980, as defined by insured losses, have all been hurricanes, led by Katrina in 2005 ($62 billion) and Ike in 2008 ($18 billion).


One bit of good news announced earlier this week is Americans have become more likely to link extreme weather events to climate change. That’s according to a report by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities.

The recent drought across much of the country has clearly had an impact on beliefs. The researchers found that seventy-four percent of Americans said "global warming is affecting weather in the United States," in a survey taken in August and September, compared with 69 percent who agreed with that statement in a March survey. (A roundup of this summer’s extreme weather events can be found here.)

Overall, according to the report, sixty-one percent of respondents said they had seen U.S. weather change for the worse over the past several years.

Hopefully, such raised awareness will cause people to call on leaders in Washington to take action to curb the pollution that causes climate disruption. You can take one of those steps here.

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