Satellite view of Hurricane Irma over British Virgin Islands, 6 September 2017 Photo: CIMSS

By Angela Fritz and Jason Samenow
18 January 2018

(The Washington Post) – Near-record warmth in 2017 helped fuel extreme weather around the planet that caused catastrophic destruction, human suffering, and loss of life.

NOAA and NASA both reported Thursday that last year ranked among the three warmest on record. All four of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last four years, government scientists said.

These abnormally warm temperatures heated the oceans, intensifying monster hurricanes and deadly flash floods. They parched the land spurring devastating wildfires. They led to unprecedented and punishing hot weather extremes in booming population centers. And they continued to melt the Arctic, losing more and more ice with time.

Here we list some of the most notable and alarming heat-enhanced extreme events of 2017.

A catastrophic Atlantic hurricane season

Fueled by abnormally warm ocean water and a particularly conducive weather pattern over the Atlantic, the 2017 hurricane season was record-shattering.

Not only was it one of the most active, but also it was the most expensive season in U.S. history. Although final costs may not be known for years, estimates suggest the tab will run beyond $200 billion.

Hurricane Harvey kicked off the season in late August. The Category-4 hurricane slammed into Texas with 100-mph winds, but its torrential rainfall, up to 60 inches, and flooding was far more destructive. About 33 trillion gallons of water fell from the storm, most of which landed in a swath from Houston to Southwest Louisiana. Most estimates place Harvey ahead of Hurricane Katrina in damages — about $180 billion.

Just two weeks later, Hurricane Irma struck Florida after battering the Caribbean. The forecast for Irma was exceptionally difficult given how narrow the state is. From day-to-day, the potential track of the storm shifted — at one point Miami seemed likely to bear the brunt before it shifted to the peninsula’s west coast.

More than 16 million people lost power as Irma made landfall on Marco Island, Fla. — an outage that was clearly visible on satellite images. Millions of people had evacuated (some of them into the path of the storm), and damage estimates are expected to exceed $125 billion.

Yet, no storm in 2017 was as devastating as Hurricane Maria was to Puerto Rico. More than three months later, more than half of the island’s 3.3 million population still didn’t have power.

The official death toll remains artificially low, according to a recent investigation by the New York Times, which found that the number of hurricane-related deaths probably exceeds 1,000. The governor of Puerto Rico ordered a recount of the death toll in mid-December. [more]

The 5 most alarming climate events in a near-record warm 2017

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