Pacific Northwest wildfires among last year's 20 billion-dollar disasters

Liam Ford

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A firefighter battles the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in California history.| Photo by Joe Bradshaw via Bureau of Land Management

PACIFIC NORTHWEST — The wildfires that tore across Oregon and Washington are among 20 billion-dollar disasters that ravaged the nation in 2021.

That’s the second-highest number of such disasters on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release yesterday.

The wildfires were fuelled by record heat in what was the fourth-warmest year since statistics have been recorded.

Summer in the Pacific Northwest obliterated heat records. Locations in Washington and Oregon met or beat record-high temperatures in late June.

The heatwave coincided with the warmest June on record for 14.6 percent of the contiguous U.S., according to the full climate report.

That marks the largest number of record-high temperatures in the month of June.

Meanwhile, more than 7.1 million acres were scorched by wildfires throughout the western United States last year, nearly meeting the 10-year average.

The Dixie Fire, California’s second-largest fire in history, devoured 964,000 acres, while smoke from fires impacted air quality and public health.

Heat was followed by wet for the West Coast from October to December.

A series of atmospheric rivers brought rain and snow to several western states, including Washington and Oregon, leading to flooding in northwest Washington and British Columbia.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas crushed records, with nearly 200 percent of the average piling up in December.

Meanwhile, Alaska saw the most precipitation it has seen since 2015. Fairbanks had its wettest year ever, with 18.75 inches of wet stuff.

While the total number of billion-dollar disasters in 2021 fell short of 2020’s tally, the damage exceeded the previous year’s total by $43 billion.

Hurricane Ida, which ravaged Louisiana before travelling northeast towards the Atlantic, wreaked the most havoc of any event in 2021, with a bill of $75 billion. That’s more than half the total cost of disasters across the country for the year.

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Hard news from the Pacific Northwest | News tips? Email hello@liamford.com | Freelance reporter | Former Vancouver Sun desker | Langara Journalism '08

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