2023 was the hottest year ever record on Earth with accompanying climate disasters. More than 40% of the planet’s surface was at least 1.5°C (2.7°F) warmer than in the late 19th century. Many scientists believe that 1.5°C temperature increase over preindustrial levels is the point when severe climate consequences begin. Parts of Canada and the northern U.S. already have average temperatures at least 2°C above the mark and in parts of Europe the average temperature was 3°C degrees warmer. In August 2023, the surface temperature of the world’s oceans was a record high 70°F. Hotter ocean temperatures destroy eco-systems for fish and create stronger tropical storms and hurricanes.
In Canada, out-of-control forest fires burned through an area the size of North Dakota and wildfires in northern Greece were the largest ever recorded in the European Union. Record-breaking rains left one-third of Pakistan underwater and 20 million people homeless. In Beijing, China, record-breaking rains flooded hundreds of roads and forced the cancelation of flights. Isolated rural villages in Northern China had to have food, water, and emergency supplies dropped in by helicopter. 2023 was the fourth time in less than twenty years that the Amazon region of South America suffered from severe drought, something that never happened before in recorded history. The United Nations estimates that almost one-fourth of the world’s population was living under drought conditions in 2022 and 2023. Prolonged droughts would have been highly unlikely if not for climate change.
Climate change means more extreme weather events, not just record heat. This week record cold is gripping many parts of the United States. It was so cold during the NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins that the helmet of Chief quarterback Patrick Mahomes shattered. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a climate change denier, warned Texans that they faced temperatures below freezing for “dozens of hours.” Voters in the Iowa Republican presidential caucus traveled to local precincts in what the National Weather Service called “life-threatening cold.” It was 10°F below zero in Des Moines and wind chills were as low as 35°F below zero.
For the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a new climate change record that no one was looking forward to – $28 billion in weather-related disasters. The previous high was $22 billion set in 2020. Since 2017, more than 5,000 people have died in the United States as the result of 137 billion dollars in weather-related disasters.
The 2023 weather-related disasters included destructive hail, flooding, cyclones, tornadoes, wildfires, drought, heat waves, and severe winter storms. The total cost of the 2023 disasters was over $90 billion. The costliest event was a drought and heat wave in the South and Midwest that caused $14.5 billion in damage. The cost of the 2023 weather-related disasters was almost double what Congress approved for climate resilience in the 2021 infrastructure bill.
Other 2023 climate record-setters included Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Texas for their warmest year ever recorded while in Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Vermont, and Virginia it was only their second-warmest year ever. Louisiana also had its eighth-driest year on record, while Maine had its fifth wettest.
On June 20, the temperature in San Angelo, Texas reached a high of 114°F, setting an all-time heat record there. In July, Phoenix, Arizona, had an average temperature of 102.8°F, the hottest month ever recorded in any American city. On July 16, the temperature in Death Valley, California, was 128°F and it was still 120°F at midnight. On August 24, the “feels-like” heat index in Chicago was 120°F.
Locally, severe rainstorms and wind over the weekend of January 6 and 7 and on Tuesday January 9 caused flooding and erosion. Waves as high as twenty feet caused Atlantic coast beaches on Long Island to be washed away.
Climate change is rocking the home insurance industry, with price increases falling on homeowners. In California, climate-worsened wildfires led to a $8.5 billion increase in home insurance costs and State Farm and Allstate stopped issuing new homeowner insurance policies. In Florida and Louisiana, homeowners in hurricane prone areas have also been unable to purchase insurance. Since January 2022, homeowners in 31 states have had double-digit rate increases and in six states increases topped 20%. More than 25% of properties in New York City, including half of Brooklyn, and 80% of properties in Suffolk County are considered at risk of flooding and homeowners face steep insurance increases.