Natural disasters cost $155 billion this year, and several of them struck the United States particularly hard. Hurricanes Michael and Florence, the California wildfires and Hawaii’s volcano eruption are all on the list of the most expensive global disasters of 2018, according to the Zurich-based reinsurance company Swiss Re.
“Like last year, the losses from the 2018 series of events highlight the increasing vulnerability of the ever-growing concentration of humans and property values on coastlines and in the urban-wildlife interface,” Swiss Re said of its report. “The very presence of human and property assets in areas such as these means extreme weather conditions can quickly turn into catastrophe events in terms of losses inflicted.”
More than 8,500 wildfires burned nearly 1.9 million acres in California this year, making it the worst fire season on record, according to Cal Fire. The Camp Fire, which ignited in early November and spread unthinkably fast, killed 86 people and destroyed the entire town of Paradise. Insured losses from the Camp Fire alone could top $10 billion.
Hurricane Michael made landfall just shy of a Category 5, but for all intents and purposes, the storm was the worst-case scenario for Mexico Beach, Fla., and its surroundings near Panama City. Michael was the third-strongest hurricane on record, in terms of pressure, to make landfall in the United States, and it had the strongest winds since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992. Economists predict Michael will cost $25 billion.
Hurricane Florence may have weakened significantly before it made landfall in the Carolinas in early September, but it generated the rain of several storms. Hundreds of thousands of customers lost power in North Carolina, where more than 10,000 fled to shelters before the storm hit. Many others sought refuge from the flooding with family, friends or in hotels.
Mangkhut slammed into the northern Philippines in September with the strength of a Category 5 hurricane, weakened slightly while crossing the South China Sea and then came face to face with Hong Kong. It was the strongest storm to make landfall in the Philippines since Megi in 2010, and the strongest in Hong Kong since 1983. Mangkhut prompted the Hong Kong Observatory to issue an exceptionally rare Signal 10 on its 1-to-10 scale for storms. It killed more than 130 people and caused several billion dollars in damage.
Europe drought and wildfires
Wildfires ravaged Greece this year, including a fire in Attica that killed dozens of people and drove residents running into the sea. Corpses of families were found in the ash, apparently holding each other. Drought conditions and a heat wave over Europe gave rise to the Attica fires, which were among the worst in modern history for Greece.
More than 200 people died this summer as a series of heavy downpours battered Southwest Japan. As much as 71 inches of rain fell in Japan’s Shikoku Island over 10 days in late June and early July.
Earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia
Even before the Dec. 22 tsunami, earthquakes in Indonesia had been catastrophic this year. Then, just a few days before Christmas, one of the most active volcanoes in the world exploded in a violent eruption and triggered underwater landslides, which led to a tsunami that killed more than 400 people. About 1,500 others were injured in the coastal regions of the Sunda Strait.
Volcano eruptions in Hawaii
The East Rift Zone of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii exploded to life this spring, becoming far more active than normal. Several neighborhoods burned and were buried by the molten rock that spewed from the Big Island’s volcano. New coastline formed as the lava reached the ocean and cooled rapidly in the water. There were no deaths from this slow-motion eruption, but it will end up costing around $1 billion.