At least 29 billion-dollar weather disasters have rocked the planet so far in 2022, said insurance broker Aon in its quarterly disaster report issued October 18. Heat waves in Europe killed more than 16,000 people and nearly 1,700 died as a result of flooding in Pakistan.
The disasters included 14 severe weather events (damages done by thunderstorms, hail, and/or tornadoes), six floods, five droughts, three tropical cyclones, and one European windstorm. Comparing the total damages so far in 2022 to past years is difficult, the broker cautioned, because the 2022 losses are expected to be dominated by Hurricane Ian, and it will some months before those can be tallied.
Notable features of this year’s disasters
1) Drought damages are already $30 billion globally and will surely rise. When considering drought losses for an entire year, this figure already gives 2022 the 15th-highest drought damages of the past 48 years. Combined with a global food crisis because of the pandemic and war in Ukraine, this was a terrible year to suffer heavy agricultural losses from extreme drought. According to the World Weather Attribution program, high temperatures exacerbated by climate change made 2022 Northern Hemisphere droughts – responsible for 87% of this year’s drought costs – more likely.
2) Only three billion-dollar tropical cyclones have occurred in 2022: Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Fiona in the Atlantic, and Typhoon Nanmadol in the western Pacific. In 2021, there were six billion-dollar tropical cyclones by the end of September, and in 2020, seven. Only 10 major tropical cyclones formed in the Northern Hemisphere through mid-October; 15 is the average. The relative lack of strong storms and billion-dollar storms is partially the result of a La Niña event in the Pacific, which tamps down tropical cyclone activity there. Even so, Hurricane Ian’s damages may well top $100 billion, said insurance broker Gallagher Re, making the hurricane a top-five most expensive weather disaster in world history.
3) Two weather mega-disasters costing over $20 billion have hit Earth in 2022: Hurricane Ian in the U.S., and the European drought and heat wave. There has been a substantial rise in such $20-billion-plus mega-disasters in recent years (Figure 2). This is greatly concerning, as mega-disasters are likely to overwhelm local resources needed to respond and recover, threaten insurers with insolvency, and disrupt global supply chains.
If EM-DAT, the international disaster database, agrees with Aon’s assessment of the damages from the 2022 European drought and heat wave, this would mark two consecutive years with a top-five most expensive disaster on record for Europe (Figure 3). Last year saw Europe’s most expensive weather disaster on record, a $43-billion flood that hit Germany and Belgium.
The third-quarter Aon report focused on three of the most consequential disasters of 2022: Florida’s Hurricane Ian, the summer drought and heat waves in Europe, and monsoon flooding in Pakistan. These last two events are discussed in more detail below.
Extreme heat killed over 16,000 people in Europe in 2022
Two separate extreme heatwaves hit Europe in mid-June and mid-July, affecting hundreds of millions of people, particularly in western, southern and central parts of the continent. Using excess mortality data, Aon reported that the June heatwave killed at least 3,700 people, while the July heatwave claimed 13,000 lives. “It is important to note that these numbers of heat-related fatalities are approximated, and totals are expected to be even higher,” the insurance broker said. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, there were 3,271 excess deaths in England and Wales in the summer of 2022.
The drought and heat waves caused significant agricultural damage, disrupted cooling systems of power plants, lowered hydropower generation, reduced shipping on several important European rivers (the Danube, Rhine, and Po), and damaged buildings as land subsided.
The drought of 2022 is expected to rival the historic 2003 European drought in cost but not in mortality. The 2003 drought cost $26 billion, according to Aon, and $19.3 billion according to EM-DAT (both adjusted to 2022 USD). The 2003 heatwave was responsible for 72,160 deaths, according to EM-DAT.
According to the World Weather Attribution program, for west-central Europe, human-caused climate change made the 2022 drought 3 – 6 times more likely, when considering soil moisture.
Devastating floods in Pakistan
Melting glaciers from record spring heat and prolific summertime monsoonal rain combined to bring historic flooding that devastated a large part of Pakistan from July through September. The floods killed nearly 1,700 people, with around 20% of the deaths related to indirect causes such as diseases and malnutrition. Aon estimated damages at $5.6 billion, making it the nation’s second-most expensive weather disaster on record, behind the great floods of 2010 ($13 billion 2002 USD in damages). Both the 2010 and 2022 events were driven by the prevailing La Niña conditions. In addition, scientists at the World Weather Attribution program estimated that the disaster was worsened by increased vulnerability of the population (for instance, by more people living in flood plains) and by human-caused climate change.
After experiencing its second-warmest March this year, Pakistan recorded its warmest April on record. During the heat wave, temperatures in Jacobabad exceeded 38 degrees Celsius (100°F) for an astonishing 51 consecutive days, peaking at 51 degrees Celsius (123.8°F) on May 14. Long-term exposure to high temperatures during the heat wave resulted in excessive melting of Pakistan’s many glaciers, swelling the nation’s rivers. According to Aon, between June and September 2022, there were at least 75 glacial lake outburst floods and 90 flash flood incidents arising from heavy glacier melting in Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northern Pakistan. A study by the World Weather Attribution program found that human-caused climate change made the 2022 heat wave 30 times more likely.
During the summer monsoon season, rivers swollen by record glacial melt were then forced to accommodate water from record monsoon rainfall. The country observed its wettest July (+180%) and wettest August (+243%) since records began in 1961. The rains were most intense in the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh, which had monthly rainfall anomalies of +450% and +307% in July, and +590% and +726% in August. The World Weather Attribution study found that the five-day maximum rainfall over these provinces is now about 75% more intense than it would have been had the climate not warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius, whereas the 60-day rain across the basin is now about 50% more intense, meaning rainfall this heavy is now more likely to happen.
Bob Henson contributed to this post.
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