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back to article 2012: second costliest year for weather and climate-related disasters

Weather and climate-related disasters in the US during 2012 were the second-costliest since detailed estimates began to be calculated in 1980. Last year's damages were exceeded only in 2005, when four hurricanes made landfall, including New Orleans–destroyer Katrina. In 2012, 11 such disasters accounted for $1bn or more in …

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Windows

No win

no fee.

Must be true cos I saw it on TV*

*some Welsh rapper blokes circa year 2003

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Re: No win

If Americans all changed over to cars that manage a minimum of 33 miles to the gallon, if the Chinese stopped building coal fires power stations, if the Indonesians stopped slash and burn, if wood burning stoves wee banned in India, if Australians stopped digging out minerals, if farmers stopped field run off into rivers, if fracking had not been invented, if the world population was put on birth control, if if if if if if if if if ....

Then we might have a chance.

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Re: No win

...Rabbits do, I saw it in a documentary on BBC2…

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Flame

Here are some ideas, just for fun:

1) After your coastal city gets obliterated for the umpteenth time, don't rebuild on the same spot.

2) Stop trying to "green" the desert by pumping out the last of the fossil water in the major aquifers and start moving population to locations that are far more sustainable.

3) Plant forests and other eco-buffers. They can mitigate both heatwaves and floods.

4) Plan for emergencies by building large reservoirs. These can provide water during heatwaves and absorb overflow during floods.

5) Start upgrading agricultural infrastructure to minimize water usage and maximize reclamation. Treat the runoff and pump it back underground into the aquifer.

6) For the love of $deity stop building new cities in tornado alley.

For the cost of constantly rebuilding some rich town's beach after ever blustery squall the US could be investing in real upgrades to agriculture, forestry and population migration that would not only save lives but drive down the medium and long term costs of coping with climate change.

We get it, Americans don't want to be bothered with climate change for any number of reasons. There's not much anyone can do about that. But isn't it about time they started to plan for the consequences of that choice and start making sound financial decisions about the large-scale infrastructure and population centres of their country?

They are like children in a tinderbox. Not with matches, mind you, but with a plasma torch they can't stop fingering but adamantly deny exists.

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How can you say that?

1) Think of the rich people and that wonderful view they have to protect. Haven't you seen pictures of the view from the Kennedy compound in Edgartown?

2) The desert is cheap real estate and there are no mosquitoes or plants to cause allergies. Just mind the poisonous critters as they crawl by.

3) Forests are for suckers who like forest fires.

4) We already have these, one is called New Orleans.

5) Do you think we are made of money? We have to subsidize corporate agriculture already because we wouldn't want to cut into their profits and raise the price of food beyond that imposed by the tariffs on imported food. True competition is for chumps.

6) But, but, but tornado alley is cheap real estate and is almost as good as the desert. Besides, what could go wrong?

#umount /dev/cheek/tongue

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Anonymous Coward

"Don't build in tornado alley"

If you are going to say that, then logically you should insist upon not building anywhere else that has natural disasters:

* Cannot build near fault lines. Even "inactive" ones, as they have a distressing tendency to become active without warning.

* Cannot build near the coasts due to hurricanes, nor'easters, and such.

* Cannot build up north due to blizzards.

* Cannot build near the Great Lakes due to lake effect blizzards.

* Cannot build near volcanoes, even so called "dormant" ones.

Exactly where CAN we build, then?

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Re: "Don't build in tornado alley"

Um, I happen to live nowhere near a fault line. Tornadoes are rare. Nowhere near a coast. Nowhere near a volcano. Blizzards occur with regularity, but shockingly we're really, really good at dealing with those.

There are plenty of places to build cities. Hell, if you aren't being a complete dipshit you have the ability to view the world as something other than black and white. That means "near a volcano or inactive fault line" is a calculated risk whose odds are damned slim.

"Rebuilding New Orleans" is not a calculated risk, it's fucking lunacy. If you can't grok the difference between "a billion dollar disaster is likely to recur in the exact same spot within and human lifetime" and "our best science says the volcano we're parking our city by isn't due to erupt for another 800,000 years" then I'd say the odds you're an omega-level moron approach unity.

I'd say you don't build anywhere that there is a better than 50% chance of > 25% of your city being wiped out within 5 generations. Farm that land instead. The loss of a few farms is a hell of a lot easier to cope with than rebuilding New Orleans for the idioth time.

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Happy

Re: "Don't build in tornado alley"

"Blizzards occur with regularity"

That's actually very true. Having spend my first 4 decades or so in the northeastern corner of the US, hell the northeastern corner of New England, things pretty much fall into a groove during winter. It's a place where there isn't much difference between a Nor'easter, a blizzard and any Tuesday in January. Folks know to mount the plow and the Hakkapeliittas and carry on because it's just Tuesday. When you get a bit south of New York things change and a dusting of snow in DC leads to chaos and shutting down the city which is probably for the best since DC drivers, like my uncle, aren't very good even in nice weather. No offense Unc.

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Happy

Re: "Don't build in tornado alley"

To you, it was the most significant blizzard in your life. To me, it was Tuesday.

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Tornado alley?

It is not incredibly difficult to make a house resistant to EF3 - EF4 tornadoes, and also not incredibly difficult to make part of a house survive an EF5 tornado. Many of the same details are useful for dealing with hurricanes. What's stupid is building stuff in flood zones of rivers.

As for water, reverse osmosis technology is becoming a practical source of water for arid areas with access to sea water (e.g southern California).

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Re: Here are some ideas, just for fun:

1) Shipping is still cheapest by, well, ship. It's difficult to drive ships on land. Therefore you can't really do away with coastal cities. By definition, all coastal cities are susceptible to being obliterated, particularly by hurricanes.

Points 2 & 3 directly contradict each other.

4) You can't build large reservoirs because that will destroy wildlife habitat. It's an EPA thing.

5) US agriculture has already minimized water usage frequently using satellite imagery. Trying to catch natural runoff is likely to cause even more environmental issues down the road.

6) No cities in tornado alley, no cities in major flood plains, no cities on the plains where they would be subject to drought and emptying water aquifers, and the EPA won't let us build cities in the forests. WTF do you expect us to live?

I'm all for useful ideas and criticisms. But please, the old adage about putting the brain in gear before the mouth applies. As a practical implementation of point 1) I'd limit government bailouts for flooding disasters. If you have private insurance to cover the cost of the rebuild, fine. If not and you live inside the flood plain, I might be willing to give you half of what you lost so long as you rebuild outside the flood plain.

Oh and (not directed at Trevor) but perhaps part of the reason billion dollar disasters seem to be on the rise is because they aren't engaging in even the most basic economic practices like giving the numbers in constant dollars instead of inflated ones.

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Blame the climate/weather or stupidity?

If you build a city below sea level hoping some coffer dams will keep you safe, you're in for a surprise. Mother nature and gravity will win in the end, And if you then pump out the water and rebuild... she will be back.

Many towns are built in ares which get hit by hurricanes every few years. Instead of learning, people rebuild. Every time the houses cost more to rebuild (more expensive labour/materials, more demanding building codes...). No wonder it costs more.

As demand for land around cities increase, marginal lands are pressed into service. Flood prone areas that nobody built on before get piled and filled and built. They then get flooded and damaged.

So is the increased cost due to the weather actually causing more damage or just that we're putting more expensive structures where they are more likely to be damaged?

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Re: Blame the climate/weather or stupidity?

The New Orleans disaster had a very large City/State government and Army Corp of Engineers component to it. Exactly the kind of disaster that happened was predicted by one of their universities because of the way the canals were laid out to facilitate traffic. Not entirely the ACE's fault since they did try to get the City and State to fund corrective actions. But both localities put off the changes because they didn't have the money to make them. As far as I know, although they have built "stronger levies" the actual fixes proposed decades before Katrina hit remain unfunded.

Also, having visited once, some parts of the city were reasonably well designed with the expectation that at least once in your life your house would flood. I am of course talking about the really old buildings from around the time the city was being rebuilt the first time, not the new ones which ignored the wisdom of the old houses.

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Anonymous Coward

Inflation?

I always see the "X is the [biggest grossing movie|most expensive disaster|highest earning company|...] of all time", but when you look more closely, whoever said that didn't adjust for inflation - or did so with highly suspect values for the rate of inflation (personally, I do NOT trust the numbers the government puts out, as they are motivated to underreport inflation so as to make the budget forecasts look better).

Are these numbers inflation adjusted? Do they take into account the rising populations (and thus costs)?

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Boffin

Re: Inflation?

"Are these numbers inflation adjusted? Do they take into account the rising populations (and thus costs)?"

Nominally they are. The database mentions though that they used consumer prices as an inflator, and like you I smell method error (but hey! this is "proof of climate change", so anything goes).

For starters, consumer price indices would be wholly inappropriate for infrastructure damage, where construction prices should be used. For agricultural commodities you should use agricultural prices, and so forth. The only place for a consumer prices inflator to be correct would be valuing the stock of your kitchen cupboards. Even then, price inflators are market prices, which don't necessarily reflect constant exchange rates between real goods and fiat money. If (say) as a result of GM, crop yields rise, then one acre devastated by a tornado causes more financial damage. Rising population density and increased personal wealth (bigger houses, more posessions, cars etc) have exactly the same effect.

Measuring damage in cash, and using the wrong inflator as well is complete nonsense, and increases the frequency of billion dollar events over time. The global warmists will see that lovely hyperbolic curve as "proof", although like all regression and similar techniques it is merely a mathematical artefact.

So what do we want this to be? The use of the wrong inflator certainly doesn't help, but chances are that weather related losses are rising as societies wealth and the population rise, and the climatic aspects are essentially minimal. If you look at all event frequency based on reported events rather than value, then it does initially appear that hurricanes and tornadoes are increasing in frequency. But some of that is related to better monitoring, with very significant rises in probability of detection (tornadoes) or prediction (when tropical storms become hurricanes). If you then look at the frequency of either F5 tornadoes or major hurricanes, the current frequencies are not out of kilter with the entire 20th C, and in fact the 1930s appeared notably worse.

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Re: Inflation?

Consumer prices definitely the wrong thing. Because there's also been economic growth. Thus there is more to damage.

As an example, 6% growth from 1980 to 2013 takes us, with compounding, from 2 to 8.

Yes, yes, I know, they're talking about the frequency, not the money damages, in that climb from 2 to 8. But it's still an interesting number.

And has there been 6% pa growth? No, there hasn't: but I wouldn't be surprised if nominal growth (ie, real GDP growth plus inflation) has been about that over that time period.

As far as I can see, their use of consumer prices is only to measure the total damages. They're not deflating the "$ billion" threshold in each year by cpi. Or the more correct nominal GDP.

Just to repeat, yes, I know that their "2 to 8" is a frequency, not a money amount. So my comparison is entirely incorrect: but still interesting.

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Re: Inflation?

"Just to repeat, yes, I know that their "2 to 8" is a frequency, not a money amount. So my comparison is entirely incorrect: but still interesting."

You could deflate the $ billion threshold, OR you could inflate the damage. Either amount to the same thing in information terms, but you certainly wouldn't do both.

I did make the point that there's more to damage because of economic growth and associated demographic and technical aspects. The UK parallel is flood damage. Are floods more frequent than they ever were? Maybe, maybe not, but in terms of (say) million pound events, we'd have far more today because we've built on flood plains (demographics & policy), we've got more property (growth), construction standards and therefore rebuild costs are higher than original cost (policy), technology has provided us with expensive stuff to damage (tablets, smartphones), and so on - regardless of the price indexing we use.

Ultimately, the article is a bit like ""movie X has been the highest/fastest grossing movie of all time". In reality it tells us nothing useful. And I'm not sure its interesting because the stuff being reported is neither methodically sound, or interesting. Unless people just want the hyperbolic curve on that graph to justify the vast wasted investment in "combating climate change".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Inflation?

Hey, Ledswinger: If you "smell method error," then get in touch with the NCDC and share your "insights". As the article points out, they're actively working to improve their methodology.

But no, you'd rather make snarky comments like "but hey! this is "proof of climate change", so anything goes" rather than try to improve analysis and forecasting.

Oh, and by the way, did you read the paper that was linked to in the article?

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Re: Inflation?

Rising population density AND bigger houses

Higher crop yields AND constant price/value

sorry i find it hard to concentrate on your arguement over the sound of straws being grasped at

deniers gotta deny i guess - but you make bill o'reilly look like plato

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Re: Inflation?

You do understand that the period of time under consideration is relatively short?

Katrena was in 2005 not 1954! just exactly how much twiddling with the inflation figures do you think is going on here? Or is it just the science of statistics you mistrust, or all science for that matter?

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Headmaster

Re: Inflation?

The issue is how the paper is used. What conclusions do the people who write the headlines want us to draw?

It could be something as simple as using bad news to sell papers - shock value.

It could be to measure to cost to the insurance industry (assuming some link between damage and cost).

It could be to note some change in short-term climate (an increase in disaster frequency) but that isn't related to the cost.

It could be to note an increase in the intensity of disasters (faster winds, higher/more waves) but that isn't necessarily related to cost either.

It could be to point out dumb decisions (rebuilt bigger more expensive homes with the last lot of insurance money in the same flood-prone area).

It could be to show the loss of resources - crops damaged etc. In which case acreage destroyed would be a better indicator.

The point is that money is generally a pretty rubbish indicator of what is going on and when it is used, it is probably a good idea to be suspicious of the motives (of the reporter, if not the researcher) behind it and read the paper in detail to see what is really being measured.

I certainly get the impression that lots of research is designed to be misused in order to keep the funding flowing. Politicians don't care whether they are accurately understanding and acting on scientific research, all they care about is that they can create a usable soundbite package which news publishers can easily use and which furthers their own interests.

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Re: twiddling with the inflation figures do you think is going on here?

At least twice as much as is going into keeping the CPI or Unemployment numbers artificially low over the last 5 years. Particularly since they explicitly compared 2005 dollars and 2012 dollars without a correction as stated in the Reg article.

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More umbrellas

I've lived in Anchorage for 15 years.. there are a few wrinkles to deal with when living in place surround by volcanoes, has suffered the worst recorded US earthquake in modern times, snows a bit for 6 months at a time every year and surrounded by areas that light up like a christmas tree when forest fires consume several 100s of thousands of acres, but hey.. the volcanoes look really cool when they're not spewing ash, avalanches only kill people that insist on standing under them and the trembling ground is simply a reminder to make sure your stuff is securely nailed to walls. Also bears don't eat people that don't feed them ribs from their barbecue (yes that actually happened) and if you wear a good hat, coat and gloves negative 30 F won't kill you.

On the plus side our international airport doesn't close just because frozen water is falling out of the sky and the view is amazing.. always. Plus we have moose and bears in our back yards, literally. Sure things might get a little out of hand if one of a hundred things that could go wrong, goes wrong.. but that's the gamble.

The issue here is whether other people should pay for the risks you're taking. In my opinion, no, they should not. If we get another tsunami (like the one that cheerfully accompanied the nations largest ever earthquake) that's our problem not yours. If the ground folds up on itself like it did about 50 years ago, again our problem. If we have to wear a mask for a week every 3 or 4 years to prevent our lungs from being shredded by glass-like volcanoe ash, again our problem not yours. It's all about perspective and not putting your hand out to the rest of the nation if you insist on living somewhere are little more interesting.

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Re: More umbrellas

Note to self. Move to Alaska.

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Re: More umbrellas

Agreed,

now could you forward this post to the state governor, maybe reduce the massive inward subsidy that alaska gets(the largest per capita in the states)? then you ideals might mean something.

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Anonymous Coward

Sign - this just demonstrates...

* the growth of the insurance industry

* that US popular culture tends to forget anything that happened before about WW2

* that people are a lot richer now than they were, so a given storm will cause a greater financial loss now than in 1900 years ago.

You want to see some vast natural disasters in the US, have a look at the Wikipedia articles below. IMHO each of these were far bigger in scope and damage done (in deaths and/or economic impact) than anything that's happened in the last 20 years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1900_Galveston_hurricane

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire

in tandem with...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peshtigo_Fire

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_bowl

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1928_Okeechobee_hurricane

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Anonymous Coward

@AC: "Sign [sic] - this just demonstrates..."

Might you please provide us with any supportable, well-researched, identifiably sourced data that might bolster your claims?

This is what frosts me about climate skeptics: you revel in attacking any climate scientist when there is the merest insecurity in their data, and yet you pull such assertions as AC's out of your collective butts when it suits your cause.

Level playing field, anyone?

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level playing field...

Now you are just taking the piss.

how could the field be level with every informed scientific expert on one side and a load of oil execs and teabaggers on the other?

it would tilt the world off it's axis!

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Re: Might you please provide us ...

Uh, you might want to re-read his claim ? And the fact that he posted some half-dozen links to support it ?

His claim is that disasters have happened before. Nothing to do with climate, nothing to do with skepticism.

You, on the other hand, obviously revel in strawman attacks. As for pulling things out of your butt, well if that rocks your world good for you.

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Coat

OMG

Translating weather to climate was bad enough. Climate to dollars? Give me a fucking break. Did the research include how many hectares of wheat grew faster, how much less heating was required in Canada and Russia? The increased value of the Indian shrimp crop boosted by increased algae growth?

I don't even... how the heck did this even get printed?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: how the heck did this even get printed?

Because it was put out by a government boondoggle agency which their local hack who is also employed by El Reg picked up on.

This agency is NOAA's next attempt at fleecing dollars from the public. And senior management at the weather service has a major interest in seeing that it succeeds.

Anon because I've been a fly on wall at some point in the past while such things were being discussed. Never there for the entire discussion, but long enough to know what was afoot. And keeping my mouth shut while there.

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Facepalm

You'd expect the *regular* flooding and the *regular* tornadoes to have an effect on house pricing

But somehow people just keep coming back.

This is evidence of a)The indomitable will of the human spirit b)The failure of a bunch of butt headed stupid people to invest in a home that was a) In an area known as "Tornado Alley."* b) Referred to as a flood plain* or c) Coastal area at negative altitude above sea level.

Note the old areas of New Orleans recovered from Katrina relatively quickly because the original settlers sited their parts on locally "high" ground.

You can argue that "The Dutch never had this trouble and most of their country is below sea level, so there." This is true.

Anyone remember the last Category 5 storm the Netherlands had?

*"How cute, the area has a name."

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FAIL

TROPICAL STORM Sandy

not a huricane

but why worry - it sounds so much more impressiive than TROPICAL STORM Sandy

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Re: TROPICAL STORM Sandy

It was a hurricane until shortly before landfall and was an impressively large storm. Most of the damage came from the storm surge, coupled with coastline features that exacerbated the surge. The wind and rain from the hurricane caused relatively less damage than the hurricane that hit Long Island and parts north in 1938.

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not sure I buy this. I want to see some more disasters to be sure.

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Trollface

You will, don't worry.

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Anonymous Coward

Wait!

From 1980! Oh no thats historical!!! So we have a total of about 30ish years where the figures are still being adjusted because figuring out the actual monetary value accounting for inflation is not easy nor accurate. But didnt I read in a previous comment section that the believers of the 'we all doomed' now want 30yrs of current data to prove MMCC co2 theory (because we are again reaching their deadline with no proof).

Surely by now we are reaching a point of enlightenment where we acknowledge that religion doesnt match the science but the science makes a good case for understanding more? This climate 'science' issue has caused a lot of harm to scientific credibility and the only way past that is to accept that the doom predictions are worthless rubbish but real science is needed? We can reject the claimed knowledge and certainty to the nutters with signs claiming the end is here, and we can salvage the real scientific work and build on it until he have an understanding of our climate based on facts.

Or we can continue claiming climate change whatever the weather. A theory you cannot disprove is not science. If it cannot be measured for failure but only success then it can never be wrong. That is why god is real, but you cannot see nor prove it.

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Re: Wait!

Hey! Stop rewriting my previous posts under AC!

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FAIL

I call BS!

This is complete tosh, I recently saw a documentary film about the year 2012 where the earth basically imploded, exploded and drowned, There is no way that is only the 2nd most costly year in the last 10…

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depending on the time of year

and what they had for lunch FEMA like to redesignate flood areas after doing surveys and such, so for a decade or more you might not be in a flood plain at all ( or sorry more accurately not in a regularly flooded area, they like to think everyone has the potential to flood!?) then you get notice from your mortgage company that you need flood insurance. I am sure there are a lot of those notices going out for sandy victims.

there are also different categories of flood plain from slightly damp occasionally to your screwed... well not quite like that but close enough, there is also base elevations and a whole manner of other things that they like to try and stick you with. it can mean the difference between being covered or losing a house, even if nothing has ever happened there before. What is remarkable is that they manage to take every ones money all the time when there is nothing going on, then when the inevitable happens, complain they have to pay out then they put the rates up, I always thought insurance was a bet, not a way to get money just by existing.

if you have hurricane coverage you still might not have flood, they give cute discounts for having shutters etc on your house too, many people get shafted because they thought they were covered in a hurricane, but the insurance company said they were actually flooded. I believe there is ( or was) at least half the country living within 50 miles of the coast given the size of some of those hurricanes 50 miles is not that far how mnay of those people are ready for a massive disaster

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