‘Heartbreaking’: 2021 climate-related disasters killed 688

By Rob Hotakainen | 01/10/2022 04:33 PM EST

Dec. 2021 tornado damage

Tyler Shepherd and Georgialee Clark (right) survey her destroyed home in Dawson Springs, Ky., for the first time in the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through the region last month. She was rescued from the rubble by her husband. Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

Last year will go down in the record books as the fourth warmest in history, while producing the second highest number of climate disasters, killing 688 people, NOAA said today.

Overall, the nation experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2021, resulting in the highest number of fatalities in a decade, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said in a report.

By comparison, 262 people died in weather-related disasters in 2020, which also produced 22 separate billion-dollar disasters, the most ever.

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Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the chair of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, called the numbers from the annual recap "heartbreaking."

“The consequences of climate change impact each and every American — especially disadvantaged communities — across the nation," she said. "We must act on climate now to build a better and more safe future for all."

December, which delivered a string of unusual and deadly tornadoes in Kentucky and elsewhere, ranked as the warmest on record, with a contiguous U.S. temperature of 39.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 6.7 degrees above average. That broke a record set in December 2015.

Ten states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — also had their warmest Decembers on record.

For the year, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 54.5 F, which was 2.5 degrees above the 20th-century average. The six warmest years on record have all occurred since 2012, NOAA said.

Among states, Maine and New Hampshire had their second warmest year on record.

Precipitation across the contiguous U.S. measured 30.48 inches, roughly half an inch above average. Massachusetts reported its ninth wettest year on record, while Montana had its ninth driest year in history.