Most expensive climate disasters in recent decades
Climate disasters are experienced all over the world; the United States in particular has seen some incredibly damaging and dangerous storms, floods, wildfires, droughts, and heat waves over the past 39 years. Many of these disasters have had lasting effects, especially for those living in the affected regions, and have caused billions of dollars in damage. In just the past year, the United States saw 11 weather and climate events that resulted in 105 deaths and cost more than $1 billion dollars each.
Stacker has ranked the most expensive climate disasters by the billions since 1980 by total cost of all damages, adjusted for inflation. Data were used from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Some more recent disasters, such as the California wildfires last June, are not part of the list, as the data and losses are still being compiled and assessed.
Read on to learn of 50 of the most expensive climate disasters in recent decades in the U.S.
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#50. Hurricane Iniki
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $5.67 billion
- Total deaths: 7
- Begin date: Sept. 11, 1992
- End date: Sept. 12, 1992
On Sept. 11, 1992, Hawaii was struck by the most lethal and devastating hurricane it had experienced since 1900. Category 4 Hurricane Iniki—which in Hawaiian means “sharp and piercing, as wind or pangs of love”—ripped through the small island of Kauai and part of Oahu with its 130 to 160 mph winds. More than 100 people were injured and seven were killed. The storm destroyed more than 1,500 homes and caused major damage to 5,000 dwellings. More than 14,350 homes were affected and many were without power for weeks; the storm took out 50% of Kauai's power lines.
#49. Severe storms and tornadoes
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $5.73 billion
- Total deaths: 51
- Begin date: May 3, 2003
- End date: May 10, 2003
In May 2003, the United States saw an unprecedented number of tornadoes and severe storms, mainly affecting the Midwest; the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee valleys; and parts of the Southeast. From May 3 to 10, 400 tornadoes—the most ever recorded in a week—were reported with one or more occurring each day in 26 different states, and 723 severe wind and 1,782 hail events also were reported that week. This outbreak of severe weather resulted in the death of 51 people, 642 injuries, the destruction of more than 2,300 homes and businesses, and damage to 11,200 buildings.
#48. Northern Plains flooding
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $5.8 billion
- Total deaths: 11
- Begin date: Feb. 3, 1997
- End date: May 24, 1997
After a winter of heavy snow and ice-jammed water sources, and the onset of spring, severe flooding resulted in 11 deaths, displaced more than 60,000 residents, and thousands were affected as flooding took its toll on agriculture, the infrastructure, homes and businesses in the Northern Plains. In East Grand Forks, Minn., only eight of almost 9,000 homes were undamaged by flood waters. After the Red River broke a century-old record, cresting at 39.6 feet—22.6 feet above flood level—90% of the city of Grand Forks was deluged.
#47. Oakland firestorm
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $6.2 billion
- Total deaths: 25
- Begin date: Oct. 1, 1991
- End date: Oct. 31, 1991
For the entire month of October in 1991, Oakland, Calif., saw one of its worst firestorms in history as more than 3,000 homes went up in flames, 1,600 acres burned, 25 people were killed, and 150 were injured. Causing more than $6.2 billion in damage, the firestorm was the most expensive urban wildfire in the United States since 1980. A mix of intense winds and dry land resulted in the wildfire burning in some places at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and devouring homes in as little as 10 minutes.
#46. Northern Plains drought (1989)
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $6.24 billion
- Total deaths: 0
- Begin date: June 1, 1989
- End date: Nov. 30, 1989
Despite predictions earlier in the year of bountiful harvests and the unlikeliness of drought because of heavy snows in the Northern Plains, the summer of 1989 resulted in one of the most devastating droughts in history. Eleven states in the region suffered huge agricultural losses and damage totaling $6.24 billion. The drought lasted from June until late November.
#45. California freeze
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $6.7 billion
- Total deaths: 0
- Begin date: Dec. 18, 1990
- End date: Dec. 25, 1990
About 200,000 acres of crops were destroyed and 100,000 farm workers were unemployed after a severe freeze hit California, mainly affecting the central and southern parts of the San Joaquin Valley. The freeze blew in on Dec. 18 and stuck around for a week, affecting the state's $8 billion fruit and vegetable industry, including its $200 million avocado crop and $438 million navel orange crop. California supplies 85% of the nation's avocados and is the leading producer of navel oranges.
#44. Western and Central U.S. drought and heatwave (2003)
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $6.9 billion
- Total deaths: 35
- Begin date: March 1, 2003
- End date: Nov. 30, 2003
From March to the end of November 2003, much of the Western and Central United States saw a severe drought and heatwave that killed 35 people and caused $7 billion in damages. The drought affected 17 states.
#43. Hurricane Gustav
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $7.1 billion
- Total deaths: 53
- Begin date: Aug. 31, 2008
- End date: Sept. 3, 2008
In August 2008, 1.9 million people evacuated Louisiana—the most in that state's history—in preparation for Hurricane Gustav, which made landfall on Aug. 31 and raged until Sept. 3. High winds, storm surges, high tides, and flooding affected not only Louisiana but also Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Other areas affected included the Caribbean, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic where nearly 180 people were killed and tens of thousands were left homeless.
#42. Western, Central, and Southeast U.S. drought and heatwave (2000)
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $7.4 billion
- Total deaths: 140
- Begin date: March 1, 2000
- End date: Nov. 30, 2000
By the summer of 2000, 19 states across Western, Central, and Southeast United States suffered from an intense drought and heatwave that killed 140 people. The extreme dryness and heat also gave rise to the worst wildfire in 50 years in the West. Across the United States, 74,571 fires burned more than 6.6 million acres. More than 35% of the contiguous United States was enduring severe to extreme drought conditions by the end of August.
#41. Midwest, Plains, and Southeast drought (2006)
- Total cost (inflation-adjusted): $7.61 billion
- Total deaths: 0
- Begin date: March 1, 2006
- End date: Aug. 31, 2006
In the late winter and into the late summer of 2006, a drought with its eye on the Great Plains region also wreaked havoc in states across the Midwest and Southeast—by July, 52% of the contiguous United States was suffering from moderate to extreme drought. The drought affected crops and water sources, as well as livestock, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to proclaim drought disasters in many states.2018 All rights reserved.