Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in Michigan, 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 Michigan, as the state faced historic flooding, which took a steep economic toll amid the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. In May, record rain fell across Central Michigan. This extreme rainfall dealt a disastrous blow to already crumbling infrastructure, causing two dams to fail near Midland. The dam failures caused catastrophic flooding and displaced roughly 10,000 residents – all while Michigan was suffering one of the worst waves of the pandemic. All in all, the flooding resulted in $200 million in damages to more than 2,500 buildings, including $34 million in damages to public buildings, such as schools and government buildings.

Extreme heat also plagued Michigan, 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. 

“Michigan’s extreme flooding, and the infrastructure’s inability to withstand the powerful impacts of climate change, was a grim glimpse into our future if we fail to take bold, immediate climate action. The relentless severe storms and extreme heat impacted every Michigander, 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 Michigan’s communities and across the country this year. You can see a full month-by-month list of climate events from 2020 HERE

  • When The Dams Broke – Heavy rains caused two dams to fail near Midland, Michigan, unleashing extensive flooding and displacing nearly 10,000 residents.
  • Tropical Depression Reaches Michigan – In June, Tropical Depression Cristobal moved through the Midwest after making landfall in Louisiana. Cristobal swept through the Great Lakes and passed through Lake Superior, the first time a tropical storm is known to have done so. The storm’s high winds left over 55,000 residents without power.
  • Damaging Derecho – In August, a derecho brought severe storms and damaging winds across much of the country, impacting communities from the Dakotas to lower Michigan. While the winds had weakened by the time it reached Michigan, the derecho caused chaotic conditions in Lake Michigan, with water levels rising 1.5 feet.
  • Lakes Michigan & Huron Reach Record High – This year, Lakes Michigan and Huron experienced eight straight months of record-high water levels. These high water levels take a devastating financial toll on residents as they destroy homes and properties in lakeside communities.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Devastating Western Wildfires – Unprecedented wildfires weren’t unique to Colorado. California experienced its worst wildfire season on record. Nationwide, 9.5 million acres burned and 2020 still has the potential to become the more devastating fire season in our nation’s history.
  • 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.