Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters Are Becoming More Common

November 07, 2017 by Daphne Thompson
Topics:   Tropical | Thunderstorm | Drought | Flood | Featured |

Weather and climate disasters are occurring at an alarming rate in the US. Hurricanes, wildfires, drought, tornadoes; all can cause a catastrophic loss in a matter of seconds. But are these extreme events occurring more often than in past decades?

Using data that reaches back to 1980, provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information, there have been 218 weather and climate disasters that met or exceeded $1 billion in damage. Significant loss of life also occurred with many of these events. Before we get into the numbers, it is important to note that some amounts may be underestimated due to damage to uninsured property. Numbers have been adjusted for inflation.

If we divide the total number of disasters by decade, we see that the 2010s (of which we still have over two years left to go) are beating each of the past three decades.

Percentage of Billion-Dollar Disasters Per Decade

Looking at the cost of disasters per decade, the trend is increasing. Note: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the recent Wine Country wildfires, are not included as this data is not yet available. With that information, we can expect the yellow bar to be even higher. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that the federal government has spent an estimated $350 billion over the past decade responding to extreme weather.

Cost of Disasters Per Decade in Billions

There were more billion-dollar Severe Storms and Tropical Cyclones than other types of weather in the 80s, 90s, and 00s. In our current decade, severe storms and flooding have dominated. The number of expensive severe storms in the 2010s totals more than in the previous 30 years combined.

Disaster Type Per Decade

These storms not only cause destruction but also lead to many fatalities. The total number of deaths due to billion-dollar disasters since 1980 is 9,905. Breaking this down, the percentages are all reasonably equal for each decade. 

Percent Per Decade of Total Fatalities

If we dive a bit deeper into the fatalities, we can see what type of disasters are leading to these numbers. You can also pick out specific events. Drought, including heatwaves, caused over 1,200 fatalities in the summer/fall of 1980. Tornado outbreaks in the spring of 2011 lead to over 500 deaths, 160 of these were from the Joplin, Missouri tornado. Hurricane Katrina dominates the Tropical Cyclone category where over 1,800 people lost their lives.

Fatalities Per DecadeDo these numbers tell the story of climate change? Are they due to a larger population? In 1980, over 226 million people lived here while the 2016 census numbers total more than 323 million. Extreme weather impacts have already cost the federal government billions of dollars, and more billions have been lost due to these events. As more disasters loom in the upcoming years, let WeatherOps help you make critical decisions for your company assets. Because one thing is for sure; there are more billion-dollar disasters than ever recorded before, and this number is expected to rise in the future. 

Daphne Thompson

Daphne is the Content Marketing Manager. Her prior experience includes working at the National Weather Center, Norman Emergency Management, and National Weather Service. With a degree in Meteorology from OU and previous outreach experience, she is able to bridge the gap between science and the general public.