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Billion-dollar disasters in 2021 caused extensive damage in Illinois and across the country

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CHICAGO — A slew of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters struck the United States again last year, with Illinois affected by the costliest winter storm on record, according to an annual report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last year had the second-highest number of billion-dollar disasters on record and was the third costliest, based on records going back to 1980 and adjusted for inflation.

In the 20 disasters that cost at least a billion dollars in 2021, at least 688 people were killed — the most fatalities since 2011 and more than double 2020 deaths.

The 20 disasters — including a winter freeze, wildfire, drought, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and severe weather — caused about $145 billion in damages overall. The costliest of the year was Hurricane Ida, at $75 billion, which made landfall in Louisiana in August with 150 mph winds.

People dig their cars out from the overnight snow on the 3700 block of North Drake Avenue in the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Along with warming temperatures, climate change caused by human actions makes extreme weather more likely and more intense, scientists say.

In the last five years, 86 disasters have cost a record $742 billion.

In 2020, a record-breaking 22 disasters struck the country, including the costly and deadly derecho that downed trees and rattled windows from Iowa to Chicago. When records began, the country averaged a few billion-dollar disasters a year.

The U.S. workplace safety watchdog is investigating the circumstances around the collapse during Friday night's storm of an Amazon building in Edwardsville.

Illinois was affected by seven billion-dollar disasters in 2021, including a February storm and cold wave. In Texas, where the freeze led to massive power outages, more than 200 deaths were related to the disaster. At $24 billion, it ended up as the costliest winter storm on record, topping the March 1991 “Storm of the Century” that wreaked havoc as it traveled across the country, spurring more than a dozen tornadoes in Florida and dropping feet of snow in some northeastern locations.

Illinois ended up with its 11th coldest February on record, going back to 1895, and some southern parts of the state recorded their coldest February.

Illinois was also affected by severe storms in spring and summer, as well as the December tornado outbreaks that led to six deaths at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville.

Along with the disaster tally, another NOAA report found the country experienced its fourth warmest year on record, with an average temperature 2.5 degrees above the 20th century average of 52 degrees.

The six warmest years on record have occurred in the last 10 years.

December was the warmest on record for the country, with 10 states recording their warmest Decembers; Illinois had its second warmest on record — with an average temperature of 40 degrees, just over 10 degrees above the 20th-century average.


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