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Weather disasters affected 1 in 10 homes in the United States last year, report finds
The findings drive home the devastating toll of disasters — including hurricanes, floods and wildfires — that are becoming more common and costly because of climate change.
“If we want to transition toward solutions to climate change, we have to get better at quantifying its impacts and its costs,”Tom Larsen, CoreLogic’s principal for industry solutions, told The Climate 202.
Using risk modeling technology, CoreLogic looked at more than 120 million residential structures across the country and their vulnerability to 13 major disasters last year, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and winter storms.
Its main findings included:
- The deep freeze that swept across the central United States in February 2021 inflicted $15 billion in property damage on 12,764,941 homes — the most of any disaster — including damage caused by water and burst pipes. The cold wave brought record low temperatures and frozen pipelines as far south as Texas, straining the electric grid and causing millions to lose power.
- Hurricanes caused $33 billion in property damage to 1,233,860 homes. In the Houma, La., area, which was hit by Hurricane Ida in August, the mortgage delinquency rate nearly doubled from 7.4 percent to 13.3 percent, suggesting that the category 4 storm directly affected homeowners’ ability to afford their monthly payments.
- Wildfires caused $1.46 billion in property damage to 4,101 homes, including damage from fire, smoke and ash. The Dixie Fire became the second-largest wildfire in California’s history, scorching nearly 1 million acres and leveling more than 1,300 structures.
- The cost to rebuild after a disaster increased because of supply chain issues during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, reconstruction costs spiked between March and June as the manufacture of building materials was hit hard by supply chain disruptions.
The CoreLogic report builds on a recent analysis by The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan and Andrew Ba Tran, which found that more than 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that was struck by a climate-related disaster in 2021.
(While The Post’s analysis may seem to contradict CoreLogic’s findings that weather disasters affected 1 in 10 homes, the two are actually compatible. That’s because The Post looked at counties, whereas CoreLogic looked at homes.)
There is little doubt that climate change is fueling the occurrence and intensity of disasters. Research shows that rising global temperatures heighten the risk of wildfires and turbocharge heat waves, rain storms, flooding and drought.
- The blistering heat wave that roasted the Pacific Northwest in June would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change, according to a study last year by World Weather Attribution, a research initiative that investigates the influence of global warming on individual weather events.
- Other studies have found that climate change increased drought risk in California and made the extreme rainfall in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey three times more likely.
- Research has also linked extreme events caused by the polar vortex, such as the deep freeze in Texas last winter, to the warming of the Arctic.
Friederike Otto, the co-lead of World Weather Attribution, told The Climate 202 that the term “natural disaster” can obscure the role of global warming.
“What turns a natural hazard into a catastrophe or a disaster is in most cases very far from natural, but driven by vulnerability and exposure which is human-made to a large degree,” Otto said.
Larsen of CoreLogic said the report can inform conversations about managed retreat, the process of relocating communities away from vulnerable areas in response to hazards such as fires or floods.
Critics say the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s National Flood Insurance Program, which provides coverage for homes deemed too risky for commercial insurers, has encouraged people to repeatedly rebuild their homes in floodplains — rather than to make the difficult choice to move elsewhere.