For the first four months of 2023, California has officially joined the “club” of states and regions severely impacted by weather and climate disasters totaling over a billion dollars. But the losses, while likely to climb higher, still pale compared to some previous disasters in the Golden State. That’s according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data

Adam Smith, an applied climatologist with NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, said “a continuous succession of atmospheric rivers caused severe flooding from heavy rain and snow that impacted many homes, businesses, levees, agriculture and other infrastructure, particularly across central California.” That includes rural towns such as Planada and the reemergence of Tulare Lake, he added.

“The current $3.5 billion direct cost of the California atmospheric river impacts will almost certainly increase, as the agricultural costs are more fully captured,” Smith noted in an email.  However, “the costs of the January to March series of atmospheric rivers and flooding will not likely reach the devastating costs of the 2017 and 2018 California wildfire seasons, which were both far more costly than any other wildfire season on record.” Those disasters both were in the $20 - 50 billion range. 

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Smith said the number and cost of weather and climate disasters are increasing in the United States due to a combination of increased exposure (more assets at risk), vulnerability (where we build, how we build) and that climate change is supercharging the frequency of some types of extremes that lead to billion-dollar disasters.

Between 1980–2022, the annual average number of billion-dollar disasters has been 8.1 events the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2018–2022) is 18.0 events (both Consumer Price Index-adjusted), according to NOAA.

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