NEW ORLEANS – North America couldn’t catch a break in 2017. s of the United States were to fire, water, and scourged by a hurricane. Mexico shook with back-to-back earthquakes. The Caribbean will be hit with a series of hurricanes.
The rest of the world, however, was spared more than usual of the drumbeat of natural disasters. Preliminary research shows that there are fewer disasters and deaths this year than average, but the economic damage is much higher.
Although the overall disaster they were whipped big cities, who are more vulnerable as a result of the increased development, said economist and geophysicist Chuck Watson of the consulting firm Enki Research.
In a year where U.S. and Caribbean hurricanes to a record of $215 billion in damages, according to insurance giant Munich Re, no one in the continental U.S. died due to storm surge, which historically is the Number 1 killer during hurricanes. Forecasters gave the residents sufficient advance warning during a season where the storms records for force and duration.
“It is certainly one of the worst hurricane seasons we have had,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said.
The world typically averages about 325 disasters a year, but this year’s total through November was less than 250, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Leuven in Belgium. They included the floods and the monsoon in South Asia, landslides in Africa, a hurricane in Ireland, and cyclones in Australia and Central America. Colombia experienced two different periods of flooding and mudslides.
Disasters kill approximately 30,000 people and affecting approximately 215 million people per year. This year, the estimated toll was lower — around 6,000 people have been killed and 75 million affected.
Was it a coincidence, a statistical quirk or a better preparation? Experts not sure, but say it might be a little bit of each other.
“This is a very quiet year,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir who is the head of the disaster research center. “The thing is to not … be complacent about this.”
But quiet is depending on where you live.
The USA had gone more than a decade without a Category 3 storm or greater to make landfall on the mainland. The last few Septembers — normal peak hurricane month had been record on hold until this year, when Harvey, Irma, Jose, and later Mary popped up and grew into a super power in no time, said the Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
“September was just amazing. It was just one after the other, you can’t catch a break,” he said.
There were six major Atlantic hurricanes this year; the average is 2.7. A few recent studies found fingerprints of human caused warming of the earth by the torrential rains of Harvey that flooded Houston.
Researchers at the University of South Carolina estimated that the economic damage of this year’s disasters, adjusted for inflation, were more than 40 percent higher than normal, mainly because of Harvey, Irma and Maria. By many measures, Harvey took Katrina as the most expensive U.S. hurricane, but the weather is still not finished its calculations yet.
Much of the damage and the number of dead, storm surge, and otherwise — of the hurricanes hitting the Caribbean are still unknown. The National Hurricane Center is not yet ready for data.
Uccellini, the weather service said warmer than normal water, and unusual steering currents that hurricanes are especially harmful in combination with booming development in disaster-prone areas.
“We build in the wrong places. We build in areas that are at increasing risk,” said Susan Cutter, director, Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.
Forest fires burned almost the entire year in the united states, fueled by the unrelenting winds and dry conditions. Some 9.8 million acres of land have burned, especially in the West, almost 50 percent more than the average in the past ten years. A forest fire that ignited in the beginning of December in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to the northwest of Los Angeles, grew to be the largest in the history of California.
Scientists close drier weather after heavy rainfall, making the construction of the fuel that can ignite and burn easily to a combination of human-induced warming of the earth and a natural La Nina, the climate phenomenon that is the reverse of El Nino, said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb.
Worldwide, significantly less people and less land were affected by the drought of this year, and extreme heat waves were less severe in comparison with the past.
Landslides were more frequent and more lethal this year, especially because of the Sierra Leone landslide which killed 915 people, Guha-Sapir said.
Earthquakes all over the world were drastically down. In the middle of December, there was only seven earthquakes of magnitude 7 or larger in comparison with a normal year of about 15. Two powerful earthquakes struck Mexico in September, also a hit on the anniversary of the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake.
The back-to-back Mexico quakes were not related, said geophysicist Ross Stein of the Temblor, Inc., a company that provides information about the seismic risks.
“We must not forget that accident really happen,” he said.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears. His work can be found here.