How Much Does Lightning Cost?

Lightning costs the US economy billions of dollars a year. No single source gives a complete accounting of these costs. However, when taken from several reliable sources, the financial damage stretches into the billions of dollars. Additionally, none of the sources can gauge one of the most troubling results of all lightning-ignited wildfires, which are a huge protection of greenhouse gases. 

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2023) put the cost of wildfires at $4.4 billion over the last year. The $4.4 billion number comprises “suppression costs” (costs to extinguish fires), about 80% of the total. The balance of the cost goes to several government agencies, all of which are part of the Department of the Interior. 

Dollars, however, are not the only metric. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has another yardstick, which is “acres” burned. The NIFC puts “acres burned” due to lightning at about 55% of all wildfires. The balance is labeled “human-caused” wildfires.  The total number of acres burned between the two was over 7 million in 2021. 

Much of the lightning damage is to homes, a separate measure from wildfire damage. The Insurance Information Institute puts insurance claims for this damage at $1.3 billion in 2021.  Claims that year numbered 60,851. Verisk analysts report that the threat continues to increase. Writing about this issue, Verisk wrote, “Nearly 3.3 million U.S. properties are at high to extreme risk for wildfire, with over 1.7 million of these addresses in California.” California has been the location of the largest wildfires in the last decade. 

Like most climate crisis problems, the number of wildfires will continue to increase.. Editors at New Scientist pointed out that wildfire damage is not limited to the fires themselves.  “It can boost greenhouse gases and unleash other pollutants in an instant.”

In sum, lightning strikes cost approximately six billion dollars each year.  The collateral environmental damage, however,  is a cost that can not yet be measured.

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