Record Number of Floods Hit U.S. in 2016, Racking Up Global Natural Disaster Costs

By Yessenia Funes Jan 04, 2017

2016 broke a few records: global temperatures, Arctic sea ice extent and, now, natural disaster costs.

An analysis by reinsurance company Munich Re showed that earthquakes, storms and extreme weather made 2016 an expensive year. Global losses were $175 billion, the most since 2012, while North America suffered $55 billion in losses.

A total of 160 disasters struck the continent. Ninety-one of these took place in the United States. Hurricane Matthew was the most serious, costing a total of $10.2 billion. Insurance covered just over a third of this figure, Munich Re reports. The analysis also points to the worst U.S. flood of the year, the August rains in Louisiana. It cost $10 billion and killed 13 people. Only about a quarter of the expense was insured. This past year’s 19 floods make it the most flood-heavy year in recorded history.

Both events—Hurricane Matthew and the Louisiana floods—were especially hard on poor Black residents in the South. This demographic often lives in low-lying areas, making them more vulnerable to flooding. In North Carolina, the poorest communities suffered the most. In Louisiana, shelter conditions were often unacceptable.

Peter Höppe, who leads Munich Re’s risks research unit says, in the press release:

“A look at the weather-related catastrophes of 2016 shows the potential effects of unchecked climate change. Of course, individual events themselves can never be attributed directly to climate change. But there are now many indications that certain events–such as persistent weather systems or storms bringing torrential rain and hail–are more likely to occur in certain regions as a result of climate change.”

Resilient infrastructure can mitigate the effects of such disasters, the company states. "For every dollar spent on resiliency, you get $4 in return," said Carl Hedde, head of risk accumulation at Munich Re, to USA TODAY. For the U.S., at least, that appears unlikely with an incoming administration that, for the most part, doesn’t believe in climate sciene. Still, in the press release, Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Re, U.S., urged the incoming president and his administration to follow through on his plans to rebuild infrastructure.