US surpasses record of billion-dollar weather events; here’s why Arizona isn’t on the list

23 major events have caused at least $1 billion in damage. In Arizona, heat deaths aren't included in the calculations.
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 11:35 AM MST|Updated: Sep. 12, 2023 at 11:36 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A new report shows the number of billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023 has shattered previous U.S. records. And we still have nearly four months left in the year.

A recently unveiled report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) only includes disasters that have caused damage over 1 billion dollars. The 23 natural disasters featured in the report have caused immense financial impacts and loss of life. But Arizona’s heat-associated deaths are not listed. Events like the Maui wildfires or a hurricane Idalia cause mass damage to infrastructure. In Arizona, though heat may be deadly, it’s not always costly.

When a natural disaster approaches, a state can request the federal emergency management agency or FEMA to help with prevention and rebuilding. This can include things like medical supplies, food, shelter, and rebuilding homes and businesses. But in Arizona, heat is not usually recognized as an immediate threat where people would need to evacuate or rebuild homes.

Arizona State Climatologist Erinanne Saffell says this puts our state in a unique situation.

“When you are looking at those billion dollar disaster reports, it’s monetary. And it is based on things like infrastructure and agriculture. And really, how do we put a dollar on a human for heat-related illnesses. Those kinds of things kind of become challenging when you make a map to try and report that,” Saffell said.

253 deaths have been reported nationwide from the natural disasters listed in the report. In Maricopa County alone, there have been 194 confirmed heat-associated deaths as of Sept. 6. Another 351 are still under investigation.

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