Extreme disasters and policy change: These are the biggest climate stories of 2022

The conversation on the climate crisis is continuing to grow.

December 28, 2022, 9:15 AM

Climate change -- and the drastic need to curb greenhouse gas emissions -- has been at the forefront of international conversation in 2022.

Governments and businesses this past year have devoted more resources to getting countries to net-zero emissions by 2030 by enacting legislation to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the use and development of renewable energy.

This effort is to avoid the disastrous outcomes scientists have been predicting for decades about global warming.

Despite those efforts, the impact of climate change was evident in the number of devastating natural disasters that plagued the planet this year, according to scientists.

Here are the top 10 climate headlines from 2022:

Billion-dollar disasters keep occurring

By October 2022, 15 disasters exceeding $1 billion in damage had occurred in the U.S., including Hurricanes Fiona and Ian in September, extreme flooding in Missouri and Kentucky in July and drought and heat waves in the western U.S. for most of the waves, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In 2021, there were 20 disasters that exceeded $1 billion, and in 2020, there were 22 disasters that exceeded $1 billion, according to NOAA.

Dozens killed in historic flooding in Kentucky

At least 39 people were killed in eastern Kentucky in late July after a repetitive rain system of "training thunderstorms."

Rain fell at a record 4 inches per hour at some points, causing catastrophic damage, according to the National Weather Service.

A house is almost completely submerged from recent flooding, July 29, 2022, in Breathitt County, Kentucky.
Michael Swensen/Getty Images, FILE

Climate change is expected to increase annual flooding costs in the U.S. by 26% to $40.6 billion by 2050, a study published in Nature in January 2022 found.

Severe tornadoes ripped across the South

In March, nearly 30 tornadoes ripped across seven states, causing more than $1 billion in damage and killing three people, according to the National Weather Service.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation digital message board warns drivers along I-55 of a tornado warning during the outbreak of severe weather in the state, March 30, 2022.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP, FILE

Batches of deadly tornadoes continued until late in the year. Earlier this month, tornadoes that swept through Louisiana killed three people, and in late November a mother and her 8-year-old son were killed in central Alabama have more than 34 tornadoes touched down in Southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

'Megadrought' persists

The megadrought that has been plaguing the West has not only persisted across much of the Western U.S., but it has expanded further east as well, according to NOAA.

The current megadrought impacting the West is the most extreme of the last 1,200 years, according to the World Economic Forum.

The largest reservoirs in the country, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have hit their lowest levels ever recorded, as have bodies of water all over the region.

The drought has led to record water shortages, especially for the millions of people who rely on the Colorado River basin for their water supply.

A study published in Nature in March linked the megadrought to climate change and noted "rapid intensification" of drought in the Southwest U.S. between 2020 and 2021.

Summer heat waves and drought 'revealing' artifacts

Summer 2022 was one of the warmest on record.

This year's June was tied with 2020 as the warmest June on record, according to NASA.

The drought that resulted from the scorching heat revealed lost artifacts all over the world.

In August, rare dinosaur tracks usually covered by water and sediment appeared at the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas. The Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur footprints were uncovered after the Paluxy River began running at only a portion of its usual berth.

A Spanish "stonehenge" reemerged as the country dredged through a devastating summer drought. The Dolmen of Guadalperal has only been visible four times since it was discovered in 1926.

Extreme climate protests

Environmental activists have begun to take more drastic measures when protesting against the growing climate crisis.

The demonstration techniques have become bolder and more creative to draw greater attention to climate change, including the "eco-vandalism" of priceless works of art all over the world.

Protesters from the action group Ultima Generazione glue themselves to a wall after throwing soup on Vincent Van Gogh's painting 'Sower at Sunset' as they stage an Ecoclimate protest, Nov. 4, 2022, in Rome, Italy.
Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Protesters rhew tomato soup onto Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" painting at the National Gallery in London. Other climate protesters flung mashed potatoes onto a Monet painting at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, and some glued their hands to the famous "Girl with a Pearl Earring" painting at the Mauritshuis museum in The Netherlands.

Historic climate legislation and funding continues to be passed

Congress passed the first-ever piece of climate legislation with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which allocates $369 billion to fight climate change and encourage the transition to a green energy economy.

People visit the Rhone Glacier covered in blankets to protect it from the sun, above Gletsch near the Furkapass in Switzerland, July 13, 2022.
Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP, FILE

Included in the bill are measures to invest in combating climate change by implementing tax credits for clean energy initiatives.

Hurricanes devastate Florida

Florida suffered a devastating Atlantic hurricane season in 2022, with Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm, hitting southwest Florida in late September, causing $50-billion in damage.

On the heels of Ian came Hurricane Nicole, which hit the eastern part of the state and caused severe erosion.

Destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Oct. 2, 2022, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Win Mcnamee/Getty Images, FILE

It was the first time since 2005 the state was hit with two major hurricanes in the same season.

Mississippi River drops to historic low levels

The Mississippi River basin also experience historic lows as the result of a prolonged drought around some of the northern regions, such as Minnesota, that began in 2021.

The sight of barges idling along the Mississippi are a sign of supply chain woes to come should the drought worsen, as the waterway is one of the most important trade routes in the middle of the continental U.S., experts told ABC News in October.

The Diamond Lady rests in mud along the Mississippi River, Oct. 19, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE

The core of the Mississippi River is what helps the river maintain water, making it navigable for those large vessels. But the dwindling water levels impacted commercial traffic on the river, leading to more delays in shipping of valuable imports and exports, such as like cement, gravel and fuel.

Nuclear fusion achieved

The Department of Energy in December revealed that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab achieved a nuclear fusion reaction that generated more energy than it took to create.

A technician reviews an optic inside the preamplifier support structure at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.
Damien Jemison/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP, FILE

The achievement was a massive breakthrough and brings the world closer to a powerful, limitless supply of renewable energy.

While nuclear fusion could mark a major step in creating a form of energy that would not release the gases that are warming the planet and contributing to climate change, it is still decades away from being ready for large-scale application.

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