The planet was besieged by 42 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2022, and the total damage wrought by weather disasters was $360 billion, with 39% of that total being insured damages, said insurance broker Gallagher Re in its annual report issued Jan. 30. A separate accounting by insurance broker Aon, released Jan. 25, cataloged 37 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2022, with a total economic loss of $313 billion. This was 4% above the 21st-century annual average.
Global losses were dominated by one event: Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic impact on Florida and then South Carolina, which generated economic and insured losses that were 32% and 39%, respectively, of the globe’s entire annual total.
“The fingerprints of climate change were visible on virtually every major weather and climate event in 2022, once again highlighting the urgency to implement proper planning and investment strategies that will limit the risk to life and property,” noted the Gallagher Re report. However, it is difficult to quantify how much climate change contributed to these disaster losses since the dominant cause of increasing damages in recent years is thought to be because of an increase in wealth and exposure — in other words, more people with more stuff living in vulnerable areas.
Second-costliest year on record for drought
Global economic losses for drought in 2022 were $77 billion, according to Gallagher Re; Aon put drought losses at $54 billion, making it the second-costliest year on record for drought, behind only 2012 (adjusted for inflation). Drought, along with war in Ukraine and the pandemic, pushed global food prices to an all-time record high in 2022. Drought in Europe in 2022 cost $26 billion, according to Gallagher Re, which would rank as the second-costliest European weather disaster, using numbers from EM-DAT (which has not yet released its European numbers for 2022). Europe’s costliest disaster on record ($43 billion in flood damage in Germany and Belgium) occurred in 2021.
Deadliest weather disasters of 2022
The deadliest disaster of 2022 using direct plus indirect deaths was the heat wave that accompanied drought in Europe during the summer. This event led to over 40,000 excess deaths, according to preliminary estimates based on Gallagher Re analysis of country-level excess mortality statistics.
The deadliest weather disasters for direct deaths in 2022 were monsoon floods in India and Pakistan, which killed 2,047 and 1,735 people, respectively. The death toll in Pakistan was slightly less than the 1,985 deaths recorded in the catastrophic flooding of 2010.
Three mega-disasters costing over $20 billion
Three individual weather events in 2022 topped the $20 billion economic loss threshold: Hurricane Ian ($113-$115 billion), drought in the U.S. ($21-$22 billion), and drought in Europe ($22-$26 billion). This was just the fifth time on record in which three of more $20+ billion events had been registered in a calendar year.
Four nations had their costliest weather disasters on record in 2022
Based on historical disaster costs at EM-DAT, Pakistan’s $15 billion 2o22 flood catastrophe (9% of GDP) was that nation’s most expensive weather disaster on record, ahead of the $12.8 billion (2022 USD) damages from flooding in 2010.
In addition, three nations in Africa — Nigeria, South Africa, and Somalia — set all-time records for their most costly weather-related disaster during 2022. According to EM-DAT, the 2022 floods in Nigeria did $4.2 billion in damage (previous costliest weather disaster: flooding in 2012 that cost $640 million); the 2022 floods in South Africa did $3.5 billion in damage (previous costliest disaster: $2.2 billion 2022 USD from a 1990 drought). These are the two most expensive weather disasters on record in all of Africa (adjusted for inflation).
In Somalia, drought that began in 2021 and continued into late 2022 cost $1.1 billion, making it that nation’s costliest weather disaster on record. Neighboring Ethiopia suffered $640 million in drought losses, which was that nation’s second-costliest weather disaster on record, behind the $1.7 billion cost of the 2015-2017 drought. Drought costs were also significant in Kenya in 2022 ($280 million), ranking as that nation’s second-costliest weather disaster on record. Disaster costs in Europe from EM-DAT for 2022 were not available at the time of this writing, but using the 2022 damage stats from Gallagher Re, the droughts in France and Spain were the second-costliest weather disasters on record in those nations, when compared to previous disasters logged in EM-DAT.
For comparison, two nations had their most expensive weather-related natural disaster in history in the EM-DAT database in 2021, one in 2020, seven in 2019, two in 2018, three in 2017, four in 2016, and nine in 2015. Note that these tallies will be considerably different using Aon or Gallagher Re disaster figures, which often differ from EM-DAT’s by a factor of two. Aon’s database is generally superior to EM-DAT’s but is not publicly available in full detail.
Editor’s note: An corrected version of Figure 3, the number of $20 billion-dollar weather disasters since 1980, was uploaded on February 13, 2023.
Bob Henson contributed to this post. Website visitors can comment on “Eye on the Storm” posts (see below). Please read our Comments Policy prior to posting. (See all EOTS posts here. Sign up to receive notices of new postings here.)