Science Agency Confirms US Experienced Highest Number of Extreme Weather, Climate Disasters Ever Recorded in 2023

Statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jan 9, 2024

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WASHINGTON—The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released its annual report tallying the toll of extreme weather and climate disasters in the United States for 2023. According to the agency, at least 492 lives were lost in 28 separate disasters that each reported damages of $1 billion or more with a total economic cost of at least $92.9 billion last year. Per the data, 2023 ranks first in number of billion-dollar climate and extreme weather-related disasters and sixth in costs of these events. It was also the eighth deadliest year recorded. The release of this data comes as global scientific agencies are confirming that 2023 was the hottest year on record for the world, which NOAA and NASA are expected to affirm later this week. It also comes on the heels of the conclusion of the annual U.N. climate change talks, where for the first time in 30 years countries agreed to transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy.

Human-caused climate change, primarily driven by fossil fuel use, is rapidly worsening as the planet warms and is contributing to many of these types of disasters—including extreme heat, wildfires, droughts, intensified storms, and flooding. Extreme weather events are also adding undue stress to the U.S. electric grid and other essential infrastructure, as well as colliding with ongoing socioeconomic challenges and maladaptive practices, escalating harm to people, the economy and critical ecosystems.

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).

“It’s unambiguously clear that human-caused climate change is a major contributor to the record-breaking number of billion-dollar disasters the United States experienced last year, and the enormous human toll and costs they imposed on communities. The effects of these disasters have reverberated throughout the economy, affecting homeowners, farmers, insurance markets, business operations and supply chains, critical infrastructure, and more. They have also taken hundreds of lives and harmed the health of millions of people, disproportionately affecting young children, the elderly, and people of color. With global heat-trapping emissions continuing to rise, the future will unfortunately bring more unprecedented disasters. Together with risky development patterns, this will put more people, property and infrastructure in harm’s way.

“The rapidly worsening and inequitable economic and public health repercussions of the climate crisis are an urgent call to action. Policymakers at all levels of government; businesses; and energy, land use and emergency planners must ensure massively scaled-up investments in climate resilience and a sharp turn away from fossil fuels towards clean energy to help protect people’s health, lives and livelihoods. Every year of delay will force greater suffering and mounting climate damages upon people around the nation—even as fossil fuel companies and their shareholders rake in billions of dollars in profit.

“Congress and the Biden administration also must ensure robust financial support reaches the U.S. communities disproportionately harmed by climate disasters, including low-income communities and communities of color, as well as low- and middle-income countries globally that are acutely enduring countless climate catastrophes.”

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 2023 global temperature records.
  • 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.
  • Recent attribution science showing the responsibility of fossil fuel companies for climate impacts and damages.
  • The ways more frequent and costly extreme weather events are impacting access to homeowner insurance.
  • How the United States can meet its climate goals and reduce emissions at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
  • What nations need to achieve at the next U.N. climate change talks, COP29, in Azerbaijan.
  • What local, state, and federal governments can do to lower carbon emissions, transform the economy, and ensure communities are adequately prepared for climate change.