Fires, drought, and heat cost the Northwest billions in 2021
SPOKANE, Wash.– A report from the Department of Commerce estimates that Washington and Idaho lost between $1.35 and $2.6 billion in 2021 because of weather disasters. In the Pacific Northwest as a whole (including Oregon) that number reaches at least $3 billion. Of the four costliest weather disasters in 2021, the Northwest was impacted by two of them.
Historic heatwave and drought
We’ve reported extensively on how the drought that began in the spring of 2021 heavily impacted the Inland Northwest and is still lingering to this day. The severity of the drought went up substantially when the worst heatwave in the Pacific Northwest’s history arrived in late June. July was also the hottest month on record in the Inland Northwest.
Not only did the heatwave cause considerable crop damage on its own, but the ongoing drought it helped to prolong led to record-low wheat harvests in the region. In Washington, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that the drought and heat cost $500 million to $1 billion. In Idaho, this event cost as much as $100 million.
Idaho had its costliest wildfire season since recordkeeping began in 1980. Washington also tied a record high in wildfire costs that were previously set in 2017 and 2020. Combined, the cost of wildfires in Washington and Idaho hit $750 million to $1.5 billion. At $10.6 billion across the West, only the Texas winter storm in February and Hurricane Ida cost more to the U.S. economy.
NOAA says that 2021 was the fourth warmest year on record for the United States. Drought, extreme heat and extreme cold are the disasters that have the most proven links to climate change. A study done after the Northwest heatwave in June concluded that without the warming climate of the last 50 years, the odds of it happening would have been virtually impossible. Information on the other billion-dollar disasters in the U.S. is available here: NOAA.gov/billions
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