Hurricane Idalia, which barreled through the Big Bend region of Florida late last month before battering other communities in Georgia and the Carolinas, thankfully wasn’t the cataclysmic storm that forecasters had feared days before.

But the Category 3 hurricane, which caused widespread flooding in some communities, still left behind a costly trail of damage — and solidified an unsettling place in the record books.

Idalia became the 23rd “billion dollar” weather disaster to strike the United States this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported on Monday, eclipsing the previous record of 22 set in 2020. And there are still four months left in this year, with the very real potential for more devastating weather ahead.

“It takes a lot to surprise me with all these extremes, but this year has been a surprise,” said Adam Smith, a NOAA economist and scientist who analyzes weather- and climate-related disasters.‘They are not slowing down’: The rise of billion-dollar disasters

The record tally includes a startling number of severe storms that have wreaked havoc on wide swaths of the nation, from tornadoes that damaged homes and businesses across the South and Midwest to destructive hailstorms from Minnesota and Colorado. The list also includes atmospheric rivers that dumped enormous amounts of rain on California, severe flooding in Vermont and the horrific wildfires that decimated Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

By NOAA’s tally, the events so far this year have caused 253 direct and indirect fatalities and produced more than $57.6 billion in damage — a figure that likely will rise as officials continue to document losses from Tropical Storm Hilary in southern California and drought that persisted across parts of the Midwest and South. NOAA tracks disasters back to 1980, using an array of public and private data including insurance payouts and infrastructure damage to estimate their economic impact. Over time, there has been an unmistakable increase in the frequency and overall cost of such catastrophes across the country.

While the United States has experienced an average of about eight billion-dollar disasters annually over the past four decades, in the past five years, that average has jumped to nearly 18 events annually. Five of the past six years have seen total losses in excess of $100 billion, when adjusted for inflation.

Smith recalls thinking that the 22 billion-dollar disasters in 2020 — a year that saw a deadly and destructive wildfire season in the West and multiple hurricanes such as Laura that slammed into the Gulf Coast — would likely not be eclipsed anytime soon.

“I thought, ‘That record is probably going to stand for a while,’” he said. “Just 3 years later, we are shattering a record that had shattered previous records.”

The reasons behind the rise in billion-dollar disasters involves multiple factors, including the fact that Americans have continued to flock to some of the most vulnerable areas, and ongoing development in disaster-prone spots has put ever more assets in harm’s way.