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Costliest US weather disasters of the last 40 years

  • Costliest US weather disasters of the last 40 years

    Extreme weather events are sometimes called "acts of God," alluding to the fact that humans have no control over when they arrive or what they do. While this may be somewhat true, extreme weather like hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, droughts, heatwaves, freezes, and fires are impacted by the climate, and as the climate changes, these events are becoming more frequent and more severe. California's fire season has increased, resulting in longer and more severe fires, like the bout it is currently experiencing. While wildfires rage through California with particular ferocity this season, the state is no stranger to the impact such devastation wreaks on life, land, and state budget.

    These weather disasters have huge impacts on lives and on the economy, often costing billions of dollars in damage. To uncover the costliest weather events of the last 40 years, Stacker consulted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters database. The table is updated whenever a disaster reaches a total CPI-adjusted estimated cost of a billion dollars, and was released and updated in 2020.

    Looking at the top 100 weather events, some patterns emerged. For example, 30 of these 100 disasters were hurricanes, as were all the top six costliest events. And seven of the top 10 costliest weather disasters took place after the year 2000, and five of these occurred in the last 10 years.

    While the size of the weather impact influences the cost of weather events, they are also a result of preparation and management before and after disasters. This was made apparent by the top three disasters on Stacker's list: Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey, and Hurricane Katrina. The places hit by these hurricanes suffered from poor planning and lack of resources before the storms hit, and the people most impacted were not given proper aid after the fact.

    The costs of these events come from damage to infrastructure, loss of businesses, and destruction of crops. And while the dollar amounts that some of these events cost are startling, human costs from weather disasters are even more striking.

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  • #100. Oklahoma and Kansas tornadoes (1999)

    - Cost: $3.2 billion
    - Deaths: 55
    - Begin date: May 3, 1999
    - End date: May 6, 1999

    From May 3 to May 4, 1999, multiple thunderstorms produced at least 70 large F4-F5 tornadoes throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Tennessee. These tornadoes cost $3.2 billion in damage and killed 55 people. However, technologies in tornado research allowed the National Severe Storms Laboratory and other NOAA research laboratories to provide the public with accurate warnings, saving at least an estimated 600 lives.

  • #99. Midwest tornadoes (2006)

    - Cost: $3.2 billion
    - Deaths: 27
    - Begin date: April 13, 2006
    - End date: April 16, 2006

    In April 2006, tornadoes and severe weather caused $3.2 billion in damage across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Overall, between April 13 and 16, 27 people died. Indiana alone experienced over $1 billion in damage. Iowa City and the University of Iowa also suffered significant damage.

  • #98. East/South severe weather and flooding (2007)

    - Cost: $3.2 billion
    - Deaths: 9
    - Begin date: April 13, 2007
    - End date: April 17, 2007

    Between April 13 and April 17, 2007, severe weather events such as flooding, hail, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms occurred across several states from the northeastern to the southern United States. In total, these different events cost $3.2 billion and killed nine people. Texas, one of the states which suffered during this period, was then hit by an additional killer tornado just a few days later.

  • #97. Midwest/Southeast tornadoes (2011)

    - Cost: $3.2 billion
    - Deaths: 9
    - Begin date: April 4, 2011
    - End date: April 5, 2011

    The month of April in 2011 was one of the "most active, destructive, and deadly tornado months on record for the United States," according to the NOAA. On April 4, an outbreak of an estimated 46 tornadoes over central and southern states such as Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee cost $3.2 billion in damage and caused nine deaths.

  • #96. Hurricane Isaac (2012)

    - Cost: $3.2 billion
    - Deaths: 9
    - Begin date: Aug. 26, 2012
    - End date: Aug. 31, 2012

    On the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana, along with Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, experienced the impact of Hurricane Isaac, a Category 1 hurricane, which included a large storm surge and flooding rains. The hurricane caused $3.2 billion of damage and nine deaths—five direct and four indirect. Parts of the region also experienced power outages. As of November 2012, nearly $365.3 million in state and federal aid had been approved for Louisiana. However, even a year later, some Louisianans relied on donations and volunteers to get back on their feet.

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  • #95. Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland flooding (1985)

    - Cost: $3.3 billion
    - Deaths: 62
    - Begin date: Nov. 3, 1985
    - End date: Nov. 8, 1985

    The Election Day floods, which caused $3.3 billion in damage and 62 deaths in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, were caused by the remnants of Hurricane Juan moving north from Louisiana. In West Virginia alone, the estimated cost of the floods was $700 million. According to an article from West Virginia's Metro News, it took months before things were back to semi-normal and years until the damage was fully cleaned up.

  • #94. Plains/East/Northeast severe weather (2012)

    - Cost: $3.3 billion
    - Deaths: 28
    - Begin date: June 29, 2012
    - End date: July 2, 2012

    On June 29, 2012, a severe thunderstorm complex, known as a derecho, passed through several eastern, midwestern, and southern states. It was especially damaging in Washington D.C., where it caused wind gusts of 60-80 mph, downing hundreds of trees and leaving over 1 million area residents without electricity. Overall, it led to $3.3 billion in damages and 28 deaths.

  • #93. Central and Eastern winter storm, cold wave (2015)

    - Cost: $3.3 billion
    - Deaths: 30
    - Begin date: Feb. 14, 2015
    - End date: Feb. 20, 2015

    Winter storms between Feb. 14 and Feb. 20, 2015, helped contribute to Boston's snowiest year on record. Boston was also especially impacted by these storms as they caused load-stress on buildings and clogged transportation corridors. The total cost of these storms down the east coast was $3.3 billion, and Massachusetts alone experienced $1 billion in damage. These storms also caused 30 deaths.

  • #92. Hurricane Dennis (2005)

    - Cost: $3.4 billion
    - Deaths: 15
    - Begin date: July 9, 2005
    - End date: July 11, 2005

    In July 2005, Hurricane Dennis came up from the Caribbean to Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. It caused $3.4 billion in damages on the southern tip of Florida and the loss of power for 211,000 homes and businesses. The storm was a Category 4 in the Caribbean but downgraded to a Category 3 by the time it arrived in Florida. Hurricane Dennis also killed 32 people in Cuba and Haiti before entering the United States.

  • #91. Western and Alaskan wildfires (2015)

    - Cost: $3.4 billion
    - Deaths: 12
    - Begin date: June 1, 2015
    - End date: Nov. 30, 2015

    Between June 2015 and November 2015, wildfires burned over 10.1 million acres across the United States, surpassing 2006 for the highest annual total of U.S. acreage burned since record-keeping began in 1960. The costliest wildfires occurred in California, where over 2,500 structures were destroyed. The most extensive fires took place in Alaska, where over 5 million acres were burned. In total, the fires caused $3.4 billion in damage and killed 12 people.

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