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Economic toll of multiple winter storms could result in billions of dollars in property, agricultural damage

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Bethany Blankley / The Center Square

(The Center Square) – The area currently covered by winter storm warnings over the continental U.S. is larger than the land area of Alaska.

Multiple winter storms are bringing snow, ice and dangerously cold temperatures as more than 100 million Americans are under a winter weather advisory, according to the National Weather Service.

“You just don't see temperatures forecast this cold in this part of the world," IBM Meteorological Scientist Mike Ventrice, said. "The Deep South is embracing for extreme cold weather-related major power disruptions.”

The NWS warns of a "myriad of winter weather hazards across the continental U.S." over the next few days, including heavy snowfall throughout the Pacific Northwest and icy weather and slick travel conditions in the mid-Atlantic.

It forecasts temperatures dropping to minus 30 degrees in some parts of the country, with "life-threatening wind chills" between negative 30 to negative 60 degrees in the north-central U.S.

Central and southwest regions, including Texas, braced for record low temperatures and reported snow in the Gulf. Millions are without power as rolling blackouts are expected.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency issuing a winter advisory for the entire state, the first time in Texas history. The White House issued a federal emergency declaration for Texas Sunday in response to his request.

As much as a foot of snow could fall in parts of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, the NWS said.

Along the East Coast, heavy rainfalls and potential flash flooding were expected to impact parts of Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

“Winter weather events do not typically drive annual U.S. disaster costs,” Steve Bowen, meteorologist and head of Catastrophe Insight at Aon PLC, said. “However, significant winter storm events - combined with prolonged cold- can result in property and agricultural damage that well exceeds $1 billion.”

“During 2020, there were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events across the United States, breaking the previous annual record of 16 events that occurred in 2017 and 2011,” the National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA) reports. “The 2020 costs were $95 billion, with Hurricane Laura, the August derecho and the historic Western wildfires as the most costly events. The billion-dollar disaster events during 2020 caused the fourth-highest annual U.S. cost total since 1980.”

The U.S. has sustained 285 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2020), NOAA reports.

The total cost of all 285 events exceeded $1.875 trillion. The total cost over the last five years (2016-2020) exceeded $600 billion, averaging more than $120 billion/year, both new records.