Flood Costs Rising

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By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The costs of inaction on climate change keep rising  — an additional $2.5 billion a year in just U.S. flood damage. A study published this week found that from 1988-2017, increased rainfall led to a total of $75 billion in damage, more than a third of the overall cost of damage in the 29-year period. 

  • “This shows that there is real economic value in avoiding higher levels of global warming,” study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford University, told E&E News. “That’s not a political statement. That’s a factual statement about costs. And it also shows that there’s real economic value to adaptation and resilience because we’re clearly not adapted to the climate change that’s already happened.”

Why this Matters: Flooding is one of the most common and expensive natural disasters and will only go up in the years ahead. Reducing emissions to hit the UN Paris Agreement targets could “greatly reduce” damages, to quote the study. The rising risk of flooding also highlights the need to update our federal flood maps, which only cover about a third of the country and don’t take climate change into account

The rising cost of natural disasters  

The study draws the connection between human-induced warming and the higher likelihood of extreme weather events — and that future warming will only increase the cost of future flooding. It’s unfortunately not just flooding that’s costing the U.S. — other natural disasters made worse by anthropogenic climate change also have rising price tags. As we reported earlier this week, the grand total for natural disasters in America last year, from hurricanes to fires, was $95 billion in damage. That’s nearly double last year’s total, with 2020’s record hurricane season and devastating wildfires on the West Coast. Hurricanes were the most expensive, categorically, especially since climate change makes them more likely to slow down once they make landfall, dumping heavy rains over a single area for longer. 

Also costly: thunderstorms, tornadoes, hailstorms, and derechos, like the one that soaked Iowa and other parts of the Midwest and left $7 billion of damage in its wake, making it the most costly thunderstorm in US history. “2020 stands head and shoulders above all other years in regard to the number of billion-dollar disasters,” NOAA said in its report out on the cost of last year’s extreme weather.

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