A Swarm of 30 Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters Socked the Planet in 2016

By Jeff Masters and Bob Henson
Published: 17:41 GMT le 17 janvier 2017

Earth had a tough year for billion-dollar weather-related natural disasters in 2016, with 30. This is the third-largest number on record going back to 1990, said insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report issued January 17. The average from 1990 - 2016 was 22 billion-dollar weather disasters; the highest number since 1990 was 41, in 2013. The combined economic losses from all 315 weather and earthquake disasters catalogued by Aon Benfield in 2016 was $210 billion, which is 21% above the 16-year average of $174 billion. The U.S. had the most billion-dollar weather disasters of any country, with fourteen included on the Aon Benfield list (plus one more catalogued by NOAA--see below). China came in second, with seven. Flooding was the most expensive peril globally for the fourth year in a row.

The report noted: “…it can be concluded that there has been an increase in both annual and individual weather disaster costs in the last nearly four decades. It can reasonably be assumed that the combination of effects from climate change, more intense weather events, greater coastal exposures and population migration patterns are all equal contributors to the loss trend.”

Natural disasters (including earthquakes) killed approximately 8250 people in 2016, a small fraction of the 2001 - 2015 average of around 71,000 fatalities per year and also far below the median number per year (around 22,500). The deadliest weather disaster of 2016 was Hurricane Matthew (605 killed in the U.S. and Caribbean, with unofficial estimates in Haiti as high as 1600), while the costliest weather-related disaster was the $28 billion Yangtze River floods in China.

Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurance firm, put global losses from natural disasters at $175 billion in 2016, compared to $71 billion in 2015. The high losses in 2016 were driven by increasingly powerful storms and an “exceptionally" high number of severe floods, with flooding causing more than a third of all losses, well above the 10-year average of 21%.


Figure 1. The yearly number of billion-dollar global weather disasters, adjusted for inflation, as compiled by insurance broker Aon Benfield in their Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Reports. The increasing trend in weather disaster losses is at least partially due to increases in wealth and population, and to people moving to more vulnerable areas--though the studies attempting to correct damage losses for these factors are highly uncertain. Climate change may also be partly to blame for the rise in disaster losses. We discussed this topic in more detail in a 2012 post, Damage Losses and Climate Change.

Four nations see their costliest weather disasters in history
By comparing the Aon Benfield numbers to historical disaster costs at EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database, we see that at least four nations set records for their all-time most expensive weather-related disaster in 2016. For comparison, nine nations had their most expensive weather-related natural disasters in history in 2015. Here are the nations that set records in 2016 for their most expensive weather-related disaster in history:

Fiji suffered $1.4 billion in damage from Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016 (32% of GDP.) This beats the $167 million cost of Tropical Cyclone Kina of January 1993 (2016 dollars) for most expensive disaster in Fiji’s history. (Note: EM-DAT puts Winston’s damage in Fiji at $470 million.)

Zimbabwe suffered $1.6 billion in damage from its drought in 2016 (11% of GDP.) Their previous most expensive weather-related disaster was the $262 million cost (2016 dollars) of a February 25, 2003 flood.

Haiti suffered $1.9 billion in damage from Hurricane Matthew (21% of GDP.) Haiti’s previous most expensive hurricane: $1.17 billion (2016 dollars) from Hurricane Allen in 1980.

Sri Lanka suffered $1.8 billion in damage from Tropical Cyclone Roanu in May 2016 (2.2% of GDP.) Their previous most expensive disaster was the $321 million cost (2016 dollars) of the February 1, 2011 flood. (Note: EM-DAT puts Roanu’s damage in Sri Lanka at $2 billion.)


Aon Benfield’s tally of billion-dollar weather disasters globally for 2016
1) Flooding, Yangtze Basin, China, 5/1 - 8/1, $28.0 billion, 475 killed
2) Hurricane Matthew, Caribbean, Bahamas, U.S., 9/28 - 10/10, $15.5 billion, 603+ killed
3) Flooding, Louisiana U.S., 8/9 - 8/16, $10 - $15 Billion, 13 killed
4) Drought, China, 6/1 - 8/31, $6 billion, 0 killed
5) Flooding, Germany, France, Austria, Poland, 5/26 - 6/6, $5.5 billion, 17 killed
6) Drought, India, 1/1 - 6/30, $5.0 billion, 0 killed
7) Flooding, Northeast China 7/16 - 7/24, $4.7 billion, 289 killed
8) Wildfire, Fort McMurray, Canada, 5/2- 6/1, $4.5 billion, 0 killed
9) Severe Weather, Plains-Southeast U.S., 4/10 - 4/13, $4.3 billion, 1 killed
10) Drought, West-Northeast-Southeast U.S., 1/1 - 12/31, $3.5 billion, 0 killed
11) Drought, Thailand, 1/1 - 6/30, $3.3 billion, 0 killed
12) Severe Weather, Rockies-Plains-Southeast-Midwest U.S., 3/22 - 3/25, $2.5 billion, 0 killed
13) Super Typhoon Meranti, China, Taiwan, Philippines, 9/13 - 9/16, $2.5 billion, 44 killed
14) Flooding, Texas U.S., 4/15 - 4/19, $2.0 billion, 9 killed
15) Winter Weather, East Asia, 1/20 - 1/26, $2.0 billion, 116 killed
16) Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest U.S., 4/29 - 5/3, $1.8 billion, 6 killed
17) Tropical Cyclone Roanu, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, 5/14 - 5/21, $1.8 billion, 135 killed
18) Severe Weather, Plains-Rockies U.S., 7/28 - 7/29, $1.6 billion, 0 killed
19) Drought, Zimbabwe, 6/1 - 8/10, $1.6 billion, 0 killed
20) Flooding and Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest-Southeast-Northeast U.S., 3/4 - 3/12, $1.5 billion, 6 killed
21) Super Typhoon Nepartak, Philippines, Taiwan, China, 7/8 - 7/12, $1.4 billion, 111 killed
22) Severe Weather, Plains-Southeast U.S., 3/17 - 3/18, $1.4 billion, 0 killed
23) Tropical Cyclone Winston, Fiji, 2/16 - 2/22, $1.4 billion, 44 killed
24) Flooding, Argentina and Uruguay, 4/4 - 4/10, $1.3 billion, 0 killed
25) Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest U.S., 5/21 - 5/28, $1.3 billion, 1 killed
26) Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest-Southeast-Northeast U.S., 2/22 - 2/25, $1.2 billion, 10 killed
27) Severe Weather, Netherlands, 6/23 - 6/24, $1.1 billion, 0 killed
28) Severe Weather, Plains-Midwest-Mississippi Valley U.S., 5/7 - 5/10, $1.1 billion, 2 killed
29) Winter Weather, Eastern U.S., 1/21 - 1/24, $1.0 billion, 58 killed
30) Super Typhoon Chaba, South Korea, Japan, 10/5 - 10/6, $1.0 billion, 10 killed


Figure 2. The yearly number of billion-dollar U.S. weather disasters, adjusted for inflation, as compiled by NOAA/NCEI.

U.S. sees 15 billion-dollar weather disasters
In the U.S., there were fifteen billion-dollar weather disasters in 2016, according to NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Aon Benfield did not include the aggregated U.S. wildfire toll as a billion-dollar disaster in its list, whereas NOAA categorized it as a $2.0 billion disaster, with 21 deaths. (There are two other differences in the lists: Aon Benfeld rated the winter weather outbreak on January 21 as costing a billion dollars, while NOAA had lower damages, and NOAA rated a flood disaster centered in West Virginia on June 22 - 24 as costing $1.0 billion, while Aon Benfield had lower damages.) NOAA's fifteen billion-dollar weather disasters of 2016 marked the 2nd highest yearly total for the U.S. since 1980. The ten-year average is eight. Billion-dollar events account for roughly 80% of the total U.S. losses for all weather-related disasters. An unprecedented four billion-dollar flood disasters (non-hurricane related) hit the U.S. in 2016.

The 30 billion-dollar weather disasters of 2016


Multi-Month Drought Disaster 1. El Niño-related drought conditions began in India in 2015 and intensified during 2016, causing at least $5 billion in losses, making it by far the nation’s most expensive drought in history. The drought was worsened by a May heat wave that brought the hottest temperature ever recorded in India--51.0°C (123.8°F) at Phalodi on May 19, 2016. Temperatures hit a record 46°C (114.8°F) at Indira Gandhi International Airport that day. as well. In this photo, we see Indian vendors sell bottles of drinking water to passengers at a bus stop on a hot day in Allahabad on May 21, 2016. Image credit: Sanjay Kanojia, Getty Images.


Multi-Month Drought Disaster 2. The El Niño event of 2015 - 2016 brought deficient rains and devastating drought to Thailand during the first half of 2016, causing $3.3 billion in agricultural losses. This picture taken on March 23, 2016 shows a farmer walking on his drought-hit rice field in Nonthaburi province outside Bangkok. Thailand has long served as one of the globe's biggest rice bowls, but a growing water shortage is now pushing the country to move away from the grain that dominates its fields and has defined a way of life for generations. Image credit: AFP/ Christophe Archambault.


Multi-Month Drought Disaster 3. Drought in Zimbabwe cost the nation $1.6 billion in 2016--by far their most expensive natural disaster in history. In this image, we see a cow grazing in the distance in the dry area of the decommissioned Upper Ncema Dam, which sank below 2 percent of its capacity on November 24, 2016 at Esigodini, South of Matabeleland. Image credit: Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images.


Multi-Month Drought Disaster 4. Severe drought began in June and intensified during August across northeastern China in the Inner Mongolia, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces. The Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) reported well-above-normal temperatures and reduced rainfall that damaged more than 3.1 million hectares (7.6 million acres), with total economic losses at $6 billion. In this image, we see drought conditions in China as of September 1, 2016. Image credit: Beijing Climate Center.


Multi-Month Drought Disaster 5. Drought struck two widely separated parts of the United States in 2016. California continued to feel the impacts of a severe multiyear drought that began in 2012, including major crop losses and the death of more than 100 million trees. During the summer and autumn, drought intensified across parts of the Northeast and New England as well as the South. The southern and central Appalachians were especially hard hit, as rainfall dropped to record-low levels during autumn. Dozens of wildfires erupted in the tinder-dry forest, including a blaze that ravaged large parts of the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area on November 28-29, 2016. Pictured above are dead and dying ponderosa and sugar pine in California’s Sequioa National Forest. Image credit: USDA Forest Service, via phys.org.

January

Disaster 1. A massive blizzard rocked the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. January 21 - 24, killing 58 and causing at least $1 billion in damage. The snowstorm was rated the 4th most severe to hit the area in the past 66 years, according to NOAA. In this image, we see residents being forced to walk in the streets of Washington, D.C. during the storm. Image credit: Joe Flood, NOAA.


Disaster 2. One of the most intense cold air outbreaks in decades brought record low temperatures and heavy snowfall throughout much of East Asia January 20 - 25, killing a combined 116 people in Taiwan, Thailand, China, Japan and South Korea. China reported more than $1.6 billion in damage from cold and snow, and Taiwan’s agricultural sector recorded its highest losses in 17 years. Total damage from the winter weather was estimated at $2 billion. In this image, we see row boats stuck in the ice of the frozen coastal waters of Jiaozhou Bay in Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province on January 25, 2016. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.

February

Disaster 1. A powerful spring-like winter storm brought severe thunderstorms and heavy snowfall across much of the Central and Eastern U.S. from February 22 - 25, killing 10 and injuring dozens more. The National Weather Service confirmed 59 tornadoes, including four rated EF3. Total damage was estimated at $1.2 billion. In this image, we see damage in Waverly, Virginia, a day after a tornado barreled through the small community on February 25, 2016. Tornadoes killed four people in Virginia on February 24. Image credit: Jay Paul/Getty Images.

March
Disaster 1. A record-strength upper-level low pressure system that stalled out over Northern Mexico and Southern Texas brought widespread severe weather and at least $1.25 billion in damage to the U.S. from March 4 to 12. In this photo, we see flood damage in Haughton, Louisiana, on March 9, 2016, after rainfall in excess of 20" in a four-day period hit the Shreveport area, bringing historic flooding. Image credit: Michael Dean Newman.


Disaster 2.  A stationary front draped over Texas and the Gulf Coast on March 17 - 18 triggered widespread severe weather. Large hail and damaging winds hit Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida. The greatest damage occurred in Dallas-Fort Worth, where tennis ball-sized hail pummeled southern Tarrant County. Parts of southern Mississippi recorded baseball-sized hail. Total economic losses were expected to be $1 billion. In this photo, we see menacing mammatus clouds over Boerne Stage Field, Texas, on March 18, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer agrant414.


Disaster 3. A strong storm system tracked across central and eastern sections of the United States from March 22 - 25, injuring several people. The storm brought tornadoes, large hail, damaging straight-line winds and heavy snow to portions of the Rockies, Plains, Midwest, and Southeast. The costliest damage resulted from hail and thunderstorm winds in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Heavy snow and near hurricane-force winds caused property damage and travel delays throughout the Rockies and the High Plains. In this photo, we see an impressive shelf cloud from a thunderstorm over Tampa, Florida, on March 25, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer chelina.

April

Disaster 1. Torrential rains led to severe flooding across portions of Argentina and Uruguay from April 4 - 10. No serious injuries or fatalities were reported. Hardest hit was northeast Argentina, where seven-day rainfall totals tallied as much as 750 millimeters (29.53 inches] in parts of the provincial regions of Entre Rios, Corrientes, Santa Fe, Chaco, Formosa, and Santiago del Estero. More than 15,000 people were affected, with most of the damage occurring along the overflowing Paraná and Salado rivers. Substantial damage occurred to 4 percent of the country’s soybean crop. Total economic losses to agriculture in Argentina alone were estimated at $1.3 billion. In this image, we see flooding in Villa Paranacito, Entre Rios, Argentina, on April 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)


Disaster 2. Severe thunderstorms caused catastrophic hail damage across parts of the Plains and Southeast from April 10 - 13, killing at least one person and injuring dozens more. The Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metro regions in Texas were the hardest hit, where softball- and baseball-sized hail fell. Damage was estimated at $4.3 billion. In this photo, we see an impressive shelf cloud from a thunderstorm over Royce City, Texas, on April 11, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer Gweduc.


Disaster 3. Extreme rainfall of up to 17” created widespread urban flooding in Houston and surrounding suburbs April 15 - 19, killing eight people. Over 1,000 homes and businesses were damaged, and there were more than 1,800 high water rescues. It was the most widespread flood event to affect Houston since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The same storm also brought heavy snow and severe thunderstorms from April 15 - 19 to parts of the Rockies and Plains, killing one person. Damage was estimated at $2.0 billion. Above, we see a drone image of flooding in north Houston on April 20, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer Moussifer.


Disaster 4. A large outbreak of tornadoes affected numerous states across the South and Southeast April 29 - May 3, killing six people. Additional damage came from large hail and straight-line winds during the multi-day thunderstorm event, with total damage reaching $1.8 billion. In this image, we see a hailstorm hitting Mebane, NC on April 28, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer birdyboo.

May

Disaster 1. A devastating wildfire roared through Fort McMurray, Alberta in early May 2016, causing at least $4.5 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a group trying to rescue animals from Fort McMurray waiting at a roadblock as smoke rises from the fire on May 6, 2016. Image credit: Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 2. Tornadoes and severe storms caused widespread damage totaling $1.0 billion across the Plains and Central states (NE, MO, TX, OK, KS, CO, IL, KY, TN) May 7 - 10. The damage was greatest in Nebraska and Missouri. In this image, we see a rotating supercell thunderstorm with a wall cloud over Stillwater, OK, on May 9, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer gunhilda. 


Disaster 3.  Cyclone Roanu brought torrential rainfall and devastating floods and landslides to much of Sri Lanka and portions of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China on May 14 - 21, 2016. At least 135 people were killed and damages were estimated at over $1.8 billion, making the most expensive weather-related disaster in Sri Lankan history. In this image, we see Sri Lankan military personnel take part in relief and rescue efforts following a landslide in the village of Bulathkohupitiya on May 18, 2016. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)


Disaster 4. A sustained period of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes affected several states including Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Texas on May 21 - 28. The most concentrated days for tornado development were on May 22 and 24. Additional damage was created by straight-line high wind and hail damage, with total damage reaching $1.3 billion. In this image, we see a hailstone collected in Holyoke, CO on May 24, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer Imway.


Disaster 5. Extratropical storm "Elvira" spawned numerous severe thunderstorms and torrential rains across parts of northern Europe between May 26 and June 6, killing at least 17 people and causing $5.5 billion in damage. The heaviest damage was in Germany, France, Austria, Poland and Belgium. In this image, we see firemen rescuing two women on June 3, 2016 in Simbach am Inn, Germany. Image credit: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images.

June

Disaster 1. Severe thunderstorms swept through the Netherlands, causing hail, wind and isolated flash flood damage in South Holland and Utrecht provinces on June 23 - 24, with damages estimated at $1.1 billion. In this image, we an arcus cloud from a severe thunderstorm over the A2 highway between Utrecht and Amsterdam on June 23, 2016. Image credit: ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images.

July

Disaster 1. Super Typhoon Nepartak hit Taiwan on July 7 as a Category 4 storm with 150-mph winds, killing 3 and causing over $20 million in damage. After weakening to a tropical storm, Nepartak made landfall in mainland China, where it killed at least 83 people and caused $1.4 billion in damage. Here, we see a radar image of Super Typhoon Nepartak taken at 11:30 am EDT July 7, 2016 (11:30 pm local time in Taiwan), when Nepartak was a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds. Image credit: Taiwan CWB.


Disaster 2. Torrential rains fell in northern sections of China from July 16 - 24, leaving at least 289 people dead or missing, and causing $4.7 billion in damage. The hardest-hit provinces included Beijing, Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, Tianjin, and Shandong. More than 300,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and as many as 1.2 million hectares (3.0 million acres) of cropland was submerged. This photo taken on July 21, 2016 shows people making their way through a flooded area in Changping District in Beijing. Image credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images.


Disaster 3. Severe thunderstorms across the Rockies and Northeastern states (CO, WY, VA, MD, PA, NJ, NY) on July 28 - 29 caused large hail and high wind damage. Storm damage in Colorado was the most costly, due to hail, and total damage was estimated at $1.6 billion. In this image, we see a supercell thunderstorm hitting Wichita, Kansas, on July 28, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer GameShow.


Disaster 4. Earth's official most expensive weather-related disaster of 2016--and the third most expensive non-U.S. weather-related disaster in world history--was the extreme summer flooding in China’s Yangtze River basin. Torrential rains began in mid-May and peaked in July, causing catastrophic flooding that killed 475 and did $28 billion in damage. In this photo, we see a stadium in Wuhan, China on July 6, 2016, after the city received 7.09” (180 mm) of rain in the twelve hours ending at 8 am July 6. Wuhan received over 560 mm (1.8 feet) of rain over the ten day period before the July 6 deluge, causing widespread damage and chaos. Image credit: Wang He/Getty Images.

August

Disaster 1. Torrential rains of 20 - 30” fell over portions of Louisiana August 9 - 16 from a tropical depression-like storm that moved slowly across the southern U.S. for a week. Catastrophic flooding killed thirteen people, and damaged as many 110,000 homes and 100,000 vehicles. Damage was estimated at $10 - $15 billion, which will likely make it the second most expensive non-hurricane related flood in U.S. history, behind the $35 billion in damage from the summer 1993 flooding in the Midwest. In this image, we see an aerial view of flooding in Hammond, Louisiana on August 13, 2016. Image credit: AP Photo/Max Becherer.


Disaster 2. Severe thunderstorms swept across parts of the Rockies and Plains on July 28 - 29, causing $1 billion in damage. Hardest hit was Colorado, where golf-ball-and-larger-sized hail struck the Colorado Springs metro area. Hail accumulations up to one feet (0.3 meters) fell in some areas, and torrential rains led to flash flooding. Heavy losses were also reported in Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. In this image, we see an intense thunderstorm building over Boulder, Colorado on July 29, 2016. Image credit: wunderphotographer austncitylimits.

September


Disaster 1. After topping out as one of Earth’s top-ten strongest tropical cyclones on record, with a central pressure of 890 mb and sustained winds of 190 mph, Super Typhoon Meranti weakened to Category 2 strength before making landfall in China’s Fujian Province on September 15. Meranti killed 42 people and did $2.5 billion in damage to China. In Tawian, two people were killed, and damage was over $70 million. Above, we see the eye of Meranti directly over the Philippines’ Itbayat Island in a moonlight image from Japan’s Himiwari-8 satellite taken at 17:32 UTC September 13, 2016. Itbayat recorded sustained winds of 112 mph (10-minute average) and a pressure of 934 mb at 1 am local time, 32 minutes prior to this image. At the time, Meranti was a Category 5 storm with 190 mph winds--tied for the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world recorded history. No deaths or injuries were reported on the island, but there was heavy damage.

October

Disaster 1. Category 5 Super Typhoon Chaba peaked at 165 mph winds south of Okinawa, Japan on October 3 before weakening to a Category 1 storm as it grazed South Korea on October 5. Southern South Korea was the hardest hit, with 10 fatalities as well as the large majority of the $1 billion in damage from the storm. In this image, we see an International Space Station view of the typhoon taken at 08 UTC October 3, 2016 when the storm was at peak intensity: a 905-mb central pressure and sustained winds of 165 mph.


Disaster 2. Category 4 Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti on October 4, killing 546, making it the Atlantic’s deadliest hurricane in 11 years. Damage in Haiti was estimated at $1.9 billion--a staggering 21% of the impoverished nation’s GDP, and by far Haiti’s costliest hurricane on record, according to the international disaster database, EM-DAT. Matthew battered Cuba as a Category 4 storm, causing $2.6 billion in damage (3.2% of their GDP.) The Bahamas suffered $600 million in damage from Matthew (6.8% of GDP). Matthew grazed the coast of Florida and Georgia before making landfall in South Carolina on October 8 as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Matthew killed 49 people in the U.S., 28 of them in North Carolina. U.S. damage was estimated at up to $10 billion. This would make Matthew the 17th most expensive hurricane in U.S. history. Remnant moisture from Matthew also brought flooding rains and high winds to parts of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. In this image, we see a small town along the southwestern coast of Haiti that suffered extreme storm surge damage from Hurricane Matthew. For a detailed look at Matthew’s aftermath at Haiti, see our guest post from December 16, 2016, by Andrew Kennedy and Tracy Kijewski-Correa, who visited the most-affected regions and evaluated the storm’s impact. Image credit: United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), via univision.com.

A big thanks goes to Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield for helping out with our many questions on disaster stats. We’ll be back with a new post on Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

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About The Author
Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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