Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in Georgia, Across the U.S. in 2020

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

That destruction was felt throughout Georgia, as the state faced a historic hurricane season, severe flooding, and deadly tornadoes which took a steep economic toll amid the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. In May, NOAA predicted an “above normal” Atlantic hurricane season, expecting 13-19 named storms, including 3-6 major hurricanes. By mid-September, those predictions had already been exceeded, exhausting the alphabet. Georgia was struck by four storms and took indirect hits from several others. In 2020 alone, Georgia was hit with seven disasters that each totaled a billion dollars or more in damages, including Hurricanes Isaias and Sally. In October, the remnants of Hurricane Delta spawned two tornadoes in Georgia.

That same month, Hurricane Zeta caused the second-largest power outage in 2020, leaving 2.1 million people, including roughly 500,000 Georgians, without power. Power outages, severe flooding, and a seemingly constant threat of new storms loomed large over Georgia’s communities for much of the year.

Extreme heat also plagued Georgia, part of a worldwide trend driven by climate change. 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. 

“Georgia’s record-breaking hurricane season was a grim glimpse into our future if we fail to take bold, immediate climate action. The relentless hurricanes, severe storms, and extreme heat impacted every Georgian, with Black and Brown communities facing disproportionate harm,” said Meghan Schneider, a spokesperson for Climate Power 2020. “If we do not act now, the climate disasters we saw in 2020 will be our new normal — the consequences of which will be catastrophic.” 

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

  • Hurricane Sally – The Category 2 hurricane made landfall on September 15th in the Florida panhandle. Wind gusts up to 100 mph and 20-30 inches of rainfall caused considerable flooding and wind damage across the panhandle of Florida, into Alabama and Georgia.
  • Severe Storms – Extreme weather and flash flooding were common across much of the Southeast U.S. in 2020. In February, Georgia had its second wettest February on record,  while Alabama and North Carolina recorded their third wettest.
  • Deadly Tornado Season – In April, Georgia was hit by severe storms that spawned at least 22 tornadoes in a single week, killing eight people. That week alone was near the state’s yearly average of 30 twisters.
  • 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.