Fires, drought and heat cost the North West billions in 2021

SPOKANE, Wash. — A Commerce Department report estimates that Washington and Idaho lost between $1.35 billion and $2.6 billion in 2021 due to weather disasters. In the whole of the Pacific Northwest (including Oregon), that figure is at least $3 billion. Of the four costliest weather disasters in 2021, the North West was hit by two of them.

Historic heat wave and drought

We’ve reported extensively on how the drought that began in the spring of 2021 heavily impacted the Interior Northwest and continues to this day. The severity of the drought increased dramatically when the worst heat wave in Pacific Northwest history arrived in late June. July was also the hottest month on record in the Interior Northwest.

Not only did the heatwave alone cause extensive crop damage, but the persistent drought it helped to prolong led to record wheat harvests in the region. In Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that the drought and heat cost between $500 million and $1 billion. In Idaho, this event cost up to $100 million.

Forest fires

Idaho had its costliest wildfire season since record keeping began in 1980. Washington also tied a record for wildfire costs that had previously been set in 2017 and 2020. Together, the cost of the wildfires in Washington and Idaho has reached $750 million to $1.5 billion. At $10.6 billion across the West, only February’s winter storm in Texas and Hurricane Ida cost the US economy more.

Billions classified

Climate connection

Attribution table between weather events and climate change

Courtesy of: Climate.gov

According to NOAA, 2021 was the fourth hottest year on record for the United States. Drought, extreme heat and extreme cold are the disasters with the most proven links to climate change. A study carried out after the North West heat wave in June concluded that without the global warming of the past 50 years, the chances of this happening would have been virtually impossible. Information on other billion dollar disasters in the United States can be found here: NOAA.gov/billions

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