Climate disasters in 2021 affected millions of lives, caused billions of dollars in economic loss across the world and brought into stark reality the perils of higher temperatures and climate change in general.
The big picture: Early data has ranked 2021 as the sixth warmest year on record. Climatologists have warned that increased surface temperatures make floods, droughts, heat and cold waves, wildfires and tropical storms and hurricanes more common and intense.
By the numbers: A recent study estimated that extreme weather and climate event disasters last year caused a total of $170.3 billion in economic damages on top of severe human suffering.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2021 featured the second-highest number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters on record in the contiguous U.S.
The winter storm that struck Texas in February 2021 left millions without power and killed at least 246 people. A study published in September showed climate change may have worsened the cold snap.
Wildfires again ravaged the Western U.S. last year, with California recording its second-largest fire in its history. Studies show that climate change is leading to longer wildfire seasons, larger blazes and more fires exhibiting extreme behavior.
Hurricane Ida, one of the strongest and most damaging hurricanes recorded in the U.S., killed at least 91 people across nine states after making landfall in late August, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The hurricane rapidly intensified all the way up through landfall, a trend climate scientists say is becoming increasingly common in the Atlantic Ocean with global warming.
Extreme rainfall and flooding brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida killed at least 40 people across the Northeastern U.S. in early September, including at least 12 confirmed deaths in New York City.
- The deadly deluge is consistent with science showing clear links between climate change and heavy precipitation events.
At least 184 people died in Germany and Belgium from a rare extreme flooding event in July, one that climate scientists say was made worse by climate change.
Thousands of people were evacuated and at least 12 were killed from severe flooding caused by torrential rain in China’s Henan province in July.
Typhoon Rai killed over 300 people and injured at least 500 others after striking the Philippines in December. Like Hurricane Ida, this storm rapidly intensified prior to landfall.
Hundreds of people had to evacuate Greece’s second-biggest island of Evia in August after wildfires raged there in drought conditions, destroying homes and businesses and killing wildlife.
Unusually intense wildfires also struck parts of Siberia for several months, with some of the northernmost fires threatening to disturb the layer of permafrost that rings the Arctic.
A historic heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in late June and early July killed hundreds of people in the U.S. and Canada, and thousands more were hospitalized for heat-related illnesses.
- Climate research shows this event was “virtually impossible” in the absence of global warming.
Go deeper: The last 7 years have been Earth’s 7 hottest