Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania, as the state faced severe storms and record heat, which took a steep toll on residents’ health and the state’s economy. 

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. In August, Tropical Storm Isaias caused widespread damage and power outages in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. In total, Isaias caused $4.5 billion in damage and an estimated 16 deaths across the East Coast. Pennsylvania also faced damage and power outages from a derecho that affected large parts of the U.S. In addition to severe storms, Pennsylvania tied for its hottest July on record.

Pennsylvania was not the only state plagued by extreme heat. 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.

“Pennsylvania’s severe storms and scorching heat were a grim glimpse into our future if we fail to take bold, immediate climate action. The relentless storms and extreme temperatures impacted every Pennsylvanian, 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 Pennsylvania’s communities and across the country this year. You can see a full month-by-month list of climate events from 2020 HERE

  • Tropical Storm Isaias –  After making landfall on August 3 as a Category 1 storm in North Carolina, Isaias accelerated up the East Coast, resulting in widespread damage and power outages across Pennsylvania and neighboring states. In total, Isaias caused $4.5 billion in damage and an estimated 16 deaths.
  • Damaging Derecho – On June 3, a derecho stretched from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, causing widespread flooding damage and three fatalities.
  • Extreme Heat – Pennsylvania was one of seven states that reported their hottest Julys on record. Central Pennsylvania was hit especially hard, experiencing its driest July in nearly two decades (the month was also one of the area’s hottest).
  • 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.
  • 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.