Massive cleanup operations got underway Wednesday along the mid-Atlantic coast in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. At a recent news conference on Capitol Hill, leading insurance industry representatives joined Sen. Bernie Sanders to discuss the mounting financial impact of global warming. “Perhaps no industry better understands the impact of global warming than the insurance industry whose job it is to analyze risk,” Sanders said at the time. Coming off a year of record-setting $1 billion-plus natural disasters, the insurance representatives warned that costs to taxpayers and businesses from extreme weather would continue to soar.

The insurers were joined by Sens. Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse. Both Vermont and Rhode Island in August of 2011 felt the brunt of Tropical Storm Irene, one of the record 14 natural disasters in the United States last year that each caused more than $1 billion in damage. Irene alone, which first came ashore as a hurricane, killed at least 45 people and caused more than $7 billion in damage.

Property and casualty insurers in the United States experienced an estimated $44 billion in losses last year when hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes and other natural disasters were more severe, longer, more frequent and less predictable than in the past.

“From our industry's perspective, the footprints of climate change are around us and the trend of increasing damage to property and threat to lives is clear,’ said Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America.

According to Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd., the average weather-related insurance industry loss in the U.S. was about $3 billion a year in the 1980s compared to approximately $20 billion annually by the end of the past decade. “A warming climate will only add to this trend of increasing losses, which is why action is needed now," said Mark Way, head of Swiss Re's sustainability and climate change activities in the Americas.