Science Agency Confirms 2023 Already Breaking Records for Number of Extreme Weather, Climate Disasters

Statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 11, 2023

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WASHINGTON—The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released its updated data tallying the toll of extreme weather and climate disasters in the United States for 2023 thus far. According to the agency, between January and August of this year, the country experienced a record-breaking 23 separate disasters—surpassing the previous record of 22 events during all of 2020—that contributed to the deaths of 253 people and each reported damages exceeding $1 billion with a total economic cost of $57.6 billion this year. This data does not include the costs associated with Hurricane Idalia and is expected to grow over the remaining four months of 2023. Climate change is worsening as the planet warms and contributing to many of these types of disasters—including extreme heat, wildfires, drought, intensified storms, and flooding. It is also colliding with other ongoing socioeconomic challenges and maladaptive practices, increasing harm to people and property.

Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, the policy director and lead economist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“These record-breaking numbers, during a year that is on track to be one of the hottest ever, are sobering and the latest confirmation of a worsening trend in costly disasters, many of which bear the undeniable fingerprints of climate change. They affirm what millions of people around the country already know—the climate crisis is a deadly and expensive reality today. Our choices about where and how we build and develop are also putting more people and property in harm’s way. Without sharp cuts to heat-trapping emissions and robust investments in climate resilience, the human and economic toll of these kinds of disasters will mount in years to come. The year is far from over, with the busiest part of the hurricane season just getting underway, making it likely that these numbers will climb further.

“The release of this data comes on the heels of FEMA’s request for Congress to urgently allocate additional money for disaster aid as it’s slated to run out of funds this month. This kind of a dire situation is likely to happen year after year as climate change worsens. It’s imperative that U.S. policymakers invest much more in getting out ahead of disasters before they strike rather than forcing communities to just pick up the pieces after the fact. While recent legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act include some funding for climate resilience, it’s grossly insufficient given the scale of the national challenge we face. Congress and the Biden administration also must ensure funds are reaching the communities disproportionately affected by climate harms, including low-income communities and communities of color.

“The science is clear that adapting to runaway climate change is an impossible feat so we must also sharply curtail the use of fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis.”

If you have any questions or would like to arrange an interview with Dr. Cleetus, please contact UCS Climate and Energy Media Manager Ashley Siefert Nunes. UCS also has experts available who can speak about the following:

  • The connection between climate change and extreme weather events, such as more frequent and intense extreme heat, wildfires, drought, storms and floods.
  • Why UCS coined the term “Danger Season” to describe a new reality: a slew of extreme weather events worsened by climate change that tend to concentrate and collide with each other during the summer months.
  • What local, state, and federal governments can do to lower carbon emissions, transform the economy, and ensure communities are adequately prepared for climate change.
  • How the United States can meet its climate pledge under the Paris Agreement to decrease its emissions by at least 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels within the next seven years.
  • Recent attribution science showing the responsibility of fossil fuel companies for climate impacts and damages.