In 2021, deadly weather events accumulated in the United States like rain in a bucket. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, wildfires burned across the West and tropical storms battered the coasts. Among the deadly events were Hurricane Ida, the second-most destructive hurricane to make landfall in the history of Louisiana, and the Marshall Fire, which destroyed nearly 1,100 homes in Colorado after their occupants fled to safety. There was even a massive winter storm in Texas, of all places, which killed 236 people and left 10 million more without power.
If it feels like there are more natural disasters now than there used to be, that’s because it’s true. Climate change is behind a fivefold increase in the number of weather-related disasters during the last 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Between 1970 and 2019, meteorologists have documented approximately 11,000 disasters – many of which showed a “significant human influence.”
“The number of weather, climate, and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” explained WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas in a statement.
“That means more heatwaves, drought and forest fires such as those we have observed recently in Europe and North America. We have more water vapor in the atmosphere, which is exacerbating extreme rainfall and deadly flooding. The warming of the oceans has affected the frequency and area of existence of the most intense tropical storms.”