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Beryl Only the Latest Billion-Dollar Disaster to Strike Texas This Year

People associate climate effects more with California and Florida, but Florida has seen flooding, wildfires and devastating thunderstorms in addition to this week's hurricane.

An aerial view shows a destroyed home in Surfside Beach, Texas
An aerial view shows a destroyed home in Surfside Beach, Texas, on July 8, 2024, after Hurricane Beryl made landfall. Hurricane Beryl made landfall July 8 in the southern US state of Texas, killing at least two people and causing millions to lose power amid dangerous winds and flooding, as some coastal areas remained under evacuation orders.
(Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
Pop quiz time: Which U.S. state is the most vulnerable to climate-fueled weather disasters and soaring home-insurance costs but is also growing rapidly and has a government hostile to the very concept of climate change? The most obvious answer is Florida, with its hurricanes and floods and anti-woke, stunt-loving governor. The correct answer, however, is Texas.

No other state has suffered more climate-related damage over the past several decades than the Lone Star State — not even Florida, California or Louisiana. Home-insurance costs rose more in Texas than in any other state last year and over the past five years, according to S&P Global. And though Gov. Ron DeSantis has outlawed the mention of climate change in Florida, Texas’ aggressive pro-global-warming policies have real teeth and will continue to do real harm. Especially to Texas.

On Monday, the state was slammed by the third incarnation of Hurricane Beryl, which had been re-re-fueled by bathtub-warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico after wreaking havoc on several Caribbean islands, Jamaica and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It made landfall south of Houston as a Category 1 hurricane, bringing high winds, a storm surge and heavy rainfall and leaving millions without power in sweltering heat. As it churns its way through the middle of the country, Beryl will raise the threat of flooding and tornadoes all the way to the Great Lakes.

Climate change may not have caused Hurricane Beryl, but it certainly made it more powerful and destructive. It was the earliest Atlantic hurricane to reach Category 5 in history and intensified rapidly three times, drawing strength from freakishly warm ocean water and favorable atmospheric conditions created by a growing La Nina phenomenon in the Pacific.

Though Beryl had lost some steam by Monday, it almost certainly had enough power to wreak $1 billion in damage on Texas. That will make the hurricane the latest in a string of billion-dollar disasters hitting the Lone Star State so far this year. Most haven’t been nearly as headline-grabbing as Beryl. They’ve mainly been juiced-up thunderstorms bringing hail, tornadoes and high winds, including the “derecho” that blew out skyscraper windows in downtown Houston in May.

That list does not include the February-March wildfires that were the worst in the state’s history. They caused less than $1 billion in damage but destroyed many cattle ranches, farms and rural homes. And those fires followed a 2023 drought that actually did hit the billion-dollar mark in losses across Texas and several neighboring states.

In fact, Texas tops every other state in damages because of billion-dollar weather disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Through early June, it had suffered more than $417 billion in losses because of such events since NOAA records begin, topping Florida’s $398 billion, Louisiana’s $311 billion and California’s $154 billion.

Given its size and location, Texas would be unusually prone to such catastrophes even if global warming wasn’t a thing. But climate change makes each event more likely to go to 11. Warm waters give tropical storms more fuel; Beryl is just the start of what will be an unusually busy hurricane season. Hot, dry air makes wildfires more likely and more intense. And warmer air is able to hold more moisture, making thunderstorms more destructive. And the disasters are starting to pile on top of one another in “compound events” that make recovery even more difficult and expensive.

The costs are starting to be borne by Texas homeowners, including the millions who have moved into the state in recent years, seeking cheaper living. Nearly half a million people became Texans in 2023 alone, according to the Census Bureau, the biggest gain in the country and third-biggest in percentage terms. That same year, Texas suffered 11 separate billion-dollar disasters. Its home-insurance premiums soared 23%, the biggest increase in the country. Median local property taxes had risen by more than $1,000 since 2019, again leading the U.S.

No surprise, then, that mortgage foreclosures are soaring in Texas. Houston’s foreclosure rates jumped 37% in the first quarter from a year earlier, Bloomberg News reported, the highest among metro regions in the country, including several in Florida.

This is the kind of brewing crisis that should get government leaders looking for solutions. Instead, Texas’ leaders have dedicated most of their energy to not only denying the reality of climate change but fighting efforts to address it. The legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott have passed laws keeping state money out of investment funds that they claim “boycott” fossil fuels. They deny business to banks deemed insufficiently helpful to the oil-and-gas industry. They intervene in the power market to favor natural gas. They have tried to hobble their own state’s booming renewable-energy sector. They even made it illegal for local officials to protect workers from extreme heat.

Some of this is simply politicians understanding who signs their paychecks and keeps them in office: The fossil-fuel industry is Texas’ largest by revenue. But by practicing socialism for oil and gas, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Liam Denning has put it, Texas makes it harder for the rest of the world to limit the global warming that keeps inflicting disasters on, uhm, Texas.

As fate would have it, Abbott was in Asia when Beryl hit his state, trying to drum up investment from foreign businesses. And Texas certainly prides itself on being business-friendly. But any outsider looking to build a factory or buy a house in the state should be forewarned that it takes more than lax regulation and anti-woke politics to make a welcoming environment. The literal environment has a say, too.

Mark Gongloff is a Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist covering climate change. He previously worked for, the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management. ©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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