Photos: 2017 disasters
In 2017, there were at least 16 natural disasters that each racked up over $1 billion in losses — one record-breaking catastrophe after another that made this year, by some counts, the most expensive disaster year in American history.
Most devastating were the three Category 4 hurricanes that barreled into the US in late summer: Harvey, Irma, and Maria. But the wildfire season also turned out far worse than officials expected, especially for California. Though it’s hard to pin any single weather event on climate change, there’s a scientific consensus that in a warming world, hurricanes and fires will become more intense and more destructive.
Which means one of the most troubling takeaways from 2017 is this: As global average temperatures continue to rise, we can expect more extreme weather events like these here in the US.
We tracked 2017’s disasters in stories and photos. Here are some of the most striking images we saw of the most devastating weather and climate events in the US this year.
A home destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Naguabo, Puerto Rico on October 2.Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images
Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall near Rockport, Texas on August 25, was the first major hurricane of the year. It was also the most damaging, costing nearly $200 billion.
The storm pummeled Texas and Louisiana for nearly a week, and managed to break a rainfall record for a single tropical storm. It dumped somewhere between 24 and 34 trillion gallons of rain on the region, causing severe flooding.
Shardea Harrison looks on at her three-week-old baby Sarai Harrison being held by Dean Mize as he and Jason Legnon used his airboat to rescue them from their home after their area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey, on August 28. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The flooding near downtown Houston following Hurricane Harvey on August 30. Win McNamee/Getty Images
After Harvey came Hurricane Irma, which battered the Caribbean and south Florida and broke a new record for hurricane intensity by sustaining 185 mph winds for 36 hours.
The storm ultimately spared the vulnerable urban areas of Tampa and Miami from the worst predicted storm surge. But several islands in the Caribbean, including St. Martin/St. Maarten, Barbuda, Anguilla, the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, and parts of Cuba, were devastated and will be recovering for years. “I think it’s going to take a long time for Barbuda to get back on its foot,” one Barbudan who evacuated to Antigua told CNN. “Everything is completely destroyed.”
The French Caribbean island of Saint Martin was leveled by Hurricane Irma on September 12. Christophe Ena/AFP/Getty Images
The Sunrise Motel in East Naples, Florida after Hurricane Irma on September 11. Florida cities hardest hit by Irma were Everglades City, Naples, and the Florida Keys and small towns in between. Millions were without power. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
On September 20, Hurricane Maria — a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds — made a direct landfall on Puerto Rico. What’s happened since has been a true humanitarian disaster on the island, which is home to 3.4 million American citizens.
The initial recovery response from the US federal government was slow and inadequate, though President Trump called it huge success. “It’s been incredible the results that we’ve had with respect to loss of life,” he said when he visited the island on October 4.
At least 1,000 people are estimated to have died in the aftermath of the storm, though Puerto Rico’s government initially underreported the death toll and is now conducting a recount.
It’s been 101 days and since the storm hit, and only 65 percent of the island has had its electricity restored. The health care system is still stretched thin, and people will be dealing with long-term health effects from the storm and its brutal aftermath for years to come.
Downtown San Juan on September 28, eight days after the storm hit. The few buildings with lights were running on generators. Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Mirian Medina stands on her property in San Isidro, Puerto Rico, about two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Wildfires burned more than 1 million acres in Montana this year, leading to exceptionally dangerous air quality for several days in the late summer.
As Vox’s Umair Irfan reported, the smallest particles in wildfire smoke are the biggest concern for health. “Generally, we think that the smaller it is, the more likely it is to make you sick,” said Jia Coco Liu, a postdoctoral researcher studying air quality after disasters at Johns Hopkins University.
The historic main Sperry Chalet building was engulfed in flames in Glacier National Park, Montana on August 31. Glacier National Park’s historic Sperry Chalet was lost to the Sprague Fire overnight. Hutton IncidentTeam via AP
Smoke from the Lolo Peak Fire fills the air at the University of Montana in Missoula, on September 4. Patrick Record/AP
Northern California wildfires
The Tubbs Fire that raced through 110,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties in October killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 structures, making it California’s most destructive fire on record.
A firefighter uses a hand tool as he monitors a firing operation while battling the Tubbs Fire, near Calistoga, California, on October 12. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A firestorm that began in Napa Valley’s Calistoga destroyed hundreds of homes in Santa Rosa on October 11. George Rose/Getty Images)
Southern California wildfires
The Thomas Fire, which affected Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, has burned nearly 282,000 acres and is the largest fire in California’s history. And it’s also only one of several huge infernos that burned uncontrolled in the region for days.
Across the US, more than 9.7 million acres have burned to date, making 2017 the second-worst year for fires after 2015 measured by acreage burned.
A family packs up their car and evacuates as a brushfire get closer to their home in Ventura, California, on December 5. Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Surrounded by the ridges that were burned by the Thomas Fire, Rusty Smith stands outside his home in Flores Flats near Montecito, California, on December 17. Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
This year’s spate of natural disasters affected hundreds of communities in US several states and territories, and it will take years for many of them to recover. “If we really want to be more effective in preventing disasters, we have to learn to understand what the risks are before the events happen,”said Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist who directs Columbia University’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate. “And not only understand them, but act on them.”