Megadisasters devastated America this year. They’re going to get worse. – Umair Irfan Dec 28, 2017, 9:40am EST


Storms, fires, floods, and heat caused unprecedented destruction in 2017. Why?

A man watches the Thomas Fire in the hills above Carpinteria, California, December 11, 2017. 
AFP/Getty Images

2017 is about to become the most expensive disaster year in US history, costing nearly $400 billion in damages.

How did that happen? Consider some of the record-breaking weather events that came our way:

As of October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had counted 15 disasters with damages topping $1 billion, tying 2017 with 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters in a year to date. And that was before the California wildfires. (We included some of those fires in the map below):

Javier Zarracina/Vox

The unending string of calamities was shocking to many Americans. As Paolo Bacigalupi, who writes climate dystopia fiction, tweeted in August: “The thing that bothers me most about these unprecedented disasters is that even I imagined they wouldn’t happen for a long time yet.”

Yet we must see 2017 as an average year, if not a baseline. We must reckon with the likelihood of even worse storms, heat waves, fires, and droughts as the Earth warms — because scientists expect even this “new normal” to get worse.

The reasons for this are many: As the climate changes, the US is becoming much more vulnerable to disasters. People keep flocking to live in places we know are likely to be hit. And our policies don’t protect them, not by a long shot.

Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned from 2017, and what they suggest for how to prepare for future catastrophes.

What 2017 taught us about climate and extreme weather

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