Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in 2020

Washington, D.C. — Extreme weather and record-breaking storms were an unrelenting presence during 2020, causing billions in damages, burning millions of acres, and killing hundreds, according to a compilation released today by Climate Power.

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. At least 91 people died in the United States due to global-warming-fueled hurricanes, while another 207 deaths in Maricopa County, AZ alone were directly linked to extreme heat. Across the west, at least 50 deaths were linked to wildfires. Wildfires decimated 9,539,554 acres in Western states and resulted in some of the worst air quality ever for the country and studies found that the smoke from the climate change-fueled fires may alter the DNA of children.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the three-warmest years on record. September 2020 was the hottest September on the globe in 141 years of record keeping. The same is true for November. April and May 2020 both tied previous temperature records. The estimated cost of damages to rebuild following this year’s devastating weather events topped $46 billion by September.

“2020 was a stark warning of the devastation in our futures if we do not act boldly to address the climate crisis. The relentless storms, climate fires, and heat impacted nearly every person living in this country, with the disproportionate harm forced on frontline communities that have been exposed to legacy pollution and racist climate policies for decades,”  said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power 2020. “If we do not act, the heat, fires, and storms of 2020 will be our country’s new normal — the consequences of which will be catastrophic.”

Below is a snapshot of the climate crisis and its toll on communities this year. You can see a full month-by-month list of climate events from 2020 HERE.

  • Five Storms At Once – For the first time since 1971, five named storms churned in the Atlantic Basin at one time. Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, and Vicky were each visible in the Atlantic Ocean on September 14th.
  • Chemical Plant Fire – A chemical plant near Lake Charles, LA caught fire following Hurricane Laura, the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856.
  • Sci-Fi Red Skies – This year’s wildfires exposed 8 million people to hazardous pollution levels. Air pollution was so thick in places it caused the skies to turn a nightmarish reddish-orange hue inspiring a viral video that paired drone footage of the San Francisco skyline to music from the movie Blade Runner 2049.
  • Arctic On Fire – Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle, emitting a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide as carbon-dense peatlands burned in Siberia. On June 20, a Russian town north of the Arctic Circle reached a record high of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a new record for a region not exactly famous for heatwaves.
  • When The Dams Broke – Heavy rains caused two dams to fail near Midland, Michigan, unleashing extensive flooding and displacing around 10,000 residents.
  • Hottest Summer On Record – Summer 2020 was the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest summer on record. Phoenix, Arizona broke several records for the most days above 100°F (144 days), the most days above 110°F (53), and the most days above 115°F (14 days).
  • Heat Deaths On The Rise – Maricopa County, AZ has broken records for the number of people killed by extreme heat for five years in a row. In 2016 there were 154 deaths; in 2017, 179 deaths; in 2018, 182 deaths;  and in 2019, 197 deaths. This year, the 2019 record was reached in October.
  • New England Crop Bake – Across New England, crops suffered widespread losses and 165 community water systems had restrictions in place due to hot and dry conditions. The hot year got an early start when temperatures in Boston, MA soared into the 70s two days in a row on the weekend of January 11-12. In June, Caribou, Maine was one of the hottest places east of the Mississippi River, reaching 96°F.