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‘A year to enjoy’: Nevada among the few states spared billion-dollar disasters

A map of the U.S. shows the cost of disasters in each state during 2023 in different shades of red.
NOAA
2023 set a new record for the number of billion-dollar disasters in the U.S. But Nevada got off easy compared to the rest of the country.

In the first months of 2023, a series of atmospheric rivers hammered the West Coast, bringing rain, snow, and catastrophic flooding. In Sacramento, trees toppled out of the saturated ground and damaged property, while rising water levels put the city’s flood management system to the test.

The flooding was just one of a record-setting 25 separate billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters to impact the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Amid the chaos, four Western states escaped the worst of the extreme weather. Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Alaska were spared the impacts of billion-dollar disasters, but experts warn their good fortune was due more to coincidence than resilience.

According to Jen Brady with the nonprofit science communication outlet Climate Central, the wet winter mitigated the kinds of disasters that tend to affect Western states, like wildfire and drought.

“This was a year to enjoy,” Brady said. “Because it’s probably not the trend for the future.”

Brady pointed out that the data doesn’t capture the full impact of climate change. For example, it doesn’t factor in heat, which is linked to more deaths than any other kind of extreme weather.

“All these areas saw a lot of heat this year,” she said. “So even though that isn’t accounted for in billion-dollar disasters, it is a pretty significant climate impact in its own right.”

However, Adam Smith with the National Centers for Environmental Information pointed out that Nevada isn’t faced with the same weather and climate extremes that southern and southeastern states experience.

“States such as Texas experience hurricanes, frequent severe storms and [cold-wave], winter storm events,” he said.

Smith conceded that the cost estimates of each weather-related disaster should be seen as conservative. They account for things like physical damage to buildings, property, and infrastructure, as well as crops and the cost of suppressing wildfires. But they don’t include environmental degradation, healthcare related costs, or supply chain impacts.

Crucially for the West, the estimates do not yet account for wildfire smoke, either.

“As of now only the direct costs and damage from wildfires to homes, vehicles, businesses and other assets are included,” he said.

Brady said ordinary people can respond to the growing cost of weather-related disasters by making their voices heard on climate change. It’s also important to stay informed and engaged on a local level, she said, where communities around the country have come together to respond to disasters when they happen.

“We can’t avoid them. But hopefully, we can be as safe as possible when they do occur,” Brady said.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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