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  • Diane Vuković

Natural Disasters in the US: States with the Most (and the Least?)

One of the first steps in preparing for disasters is figuring out which disasters your area is most likely.

Americans need to worry about natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, severe storms, wildfires, winter storms and frost, drought, earthquakes, and volcanoes.


This guide goes over key disaster statistics for the United States, including the safest and worst states for natural disasters, which natural disasters cause the most damage and resources for preparing for disasters.


Bottom Line Upfront


The states with the highest risk of natural disasters are:

  • California

  • Texas

  • Oklahoma

  • Washington

  • Mississippi


The states with the least risk are:

  • Rhode Island

  • Delaware

  • Hawaii

  • Vermont

  • Maine


Natural Disasters Interactive Map


Most Common Natural Disasters in the USA


From 2000 to December 2022, there have been approximately 2,800 Disaster Declarations in the United States. Of these, wildfires were the most common natural disaster, followed by severe storms (tornado, hailstorm, and derecho storms) and floods.


Most Common Disaster Declarations Since 2000

  • Fire: 1,549 events

  • Severe Storm: 1,026 events

  • Flood: 856 events

  • Tropical Storms: 528 events

  • Snowstorms: 169


Most Common Natural Disasters By Region


The most common type of natural disaster varies drastically by region. In the Northeast and Midwest, severe storms are most common. In the South, tropical storms prevail. In the West and Southwest, wildfires are most common.



Which Types of Natural Disasters Cause the Most Damage in the United States?


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) keeps track of natural disasters which caused more than $1 billion in damages, adjusted for inflation. Since 2000, there have been over 2,100 billion-dollar events in the United States. 


Of these billion-dollar disasters, hurricanes by far cause the most damage. Since 2000, hurricanes have caused $1,034 billion in damages, which averages $27.2 billion per event.  


Natural Disasters which Caused More than $1 Billion in Damages (Since 2000)

Type

Frequency

Total Cost (Billions)

Hurricanes/Tropical Cyclones

254

$1,034

Severe Storms

1,146

$325.7

Drought

338

$175

Wildfires

171

$114.1

Flooding

115

$91.3

Winter Storms

106

$41.3

Freeze Events

28

$6.1

Are Natural Disasters Increasing in the USA?


Yes, there has been a considerable increase in major natural disasters in the United States. In the 1980s, there was an average of just 3 billion-dollar natural disaster events per year. By the 2000s, this number had increased to nearly 13 major natural disasters per year. In 2020 and 2021 alone, there were 42 major natural disasters. 


Number of Major Natural Disasters in the USA by Decade:  

  • 1980-1989: 31 events

  • 1990-1999: 55 events

  • 2000-2009: 67 events

  • 2010-2019: 128 event s

  • 2020 and 2021: 42 events



Part of the reason major natural disasters are increasing is simply that there are more people. More people means more property, which increases the total monetary damage of a natural disaster. 


However, when we look at the frequency of natural disaster declarations, we can see that these are increasing too.  



The good news?


While the frequency of natural disasters is occurring, the number of deaths per event is decreasing. 


This is because of better warning systems, planning, and infrastructure. In the 1980s, there was an average of nearly 96 deaths per major natural disaster. By the 2010s, this number went down to 41 deaths per event. As of 2020, the number of fatalities has gotten even lower.


  • 1980s: 31 events and 2,970 deaths

  • 1990s: 55 events and 3,062 deaths

  • 2000s: 67 events and 3,102 deaths

  • 2010s: 128 events and 5,227 deaths

  • 2020: 22 events and 262 deaths

  • 2021: 20 events and 724 deaths



Natural Disaster Risk Ranking by State


The states with the highest risk of natural disasters are Louisiana, Colorado, Tennessee, Illinois, and Kentucky. The states with the least risk are Maine, Vermont, Alaska, Connecticut, and North Dakota.


How is Natural Disaster Risk Calculated?


There are two main ways to calculate how at-risk a state is for natural disasters. 


The first method examines how many $1 billion events have occurred in the state. This method shows how likely a very destructive event is to occur. However, it skews the ranking towards states with bigger populations in urban areas: even a minor disaster can cause massive economic damage in these areas.


The other method looks at how many Disaster Declarations where declared in the state. For example, Hawaii hasn’t had a single natural disaster since 2000, which caused more than $1 billion in damages, but the state still had 61 Disaster Declarations. 


This ranking doesn’t always give a clear risk assessment because politics are involved in the Disaster Declaration process. 


Also, states with large budgets and good disaster planning may be less likely to make an official Disaster Declaration, even when the damages are very bad. For example, Minnesota had 35 events that caused $1 billion in damages but only declared a disaster 7 times.


The following natural disaster rankings were made by tallying both the number of Disaster Declarations and $1 billion events since 2000.  


States with the Most Natural Disasters (Since 2000):

  1. Louisiana

  2. Colorado

  3. Tennessee

  4. Illinois

  5. Kentucky

  6. Arkansas

  7. Texas

  8. Iowa

  9. Pennsylvania

  10. Montana


States with the Fewest Natural Disasters (Since 2000):

  1. Maine

  2. Vermont

  3. Alaska

  4. Connecticut

  5. North Dakota

  6. Delaware

  7. Massachusetts

  8. Idaho

  9. South Dakota

  10. Rhode Island 


Worst Recent Natural Disasters in the United States


When you look at the worst natural disasters in the United States since 2000, hurricanes top the list. 


Causing $186.3 billion in damage, Hurricane Katrina was the most costly natural disaster. 


If we look at the death toll, Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster. It caused 2,981 deaths. Hurricanes were more costly and deadly than any other natural disaster in recent history.


Worst Natural Disasters in the USA by Cost, since 2000

  1. Hurricane Katrina (2005): $186.3 billion

  2. Hurricane Harvey (2017): $148.8 billion

  3. Hurricane Maria (2017): $107.1 billion

  4. Hurricane Ida (2021): $78.7 billion

  5. Hurricane Irma (2017): $59.5 billion

  6. Hurricane Ike (2008): $40.2 billion

  7. US Drought/Heat Wave (2012): $38.7 billion

  8. Hurricane Ivan 2004: $31.6billion

  9. Hurricane Michael (2018): $29 billion

  10. Hurricane Wilma (2005): $27.9 billion


Worst Natural Disasters in the USA by Deaths since 2000

  1. Hurricane Maria (2017): 2,981 deaths

  2. Hurricane Katrina (2015): 1,833 deaths

  3. Southeast/Ohio Valley/Midwest Tornadoes (2011): 321

  4. NW/Central/Eastern Winter Storm and Cold Wave (2021): 262 deaths

  5. Western Drought and Heat Wave (2021): 229 deaths

  6. Midwest/Southeast Tornadoes (2011): 177 deaths

  7. Hurricane Sandy (2012): 159 deaths

  8. Western/Central/SE Drought and Heat Wave (2000): 140 deaths

  9. Hurricane Ian (2022): 131 deaths

  10. US Drought and Heat Wave (2012): 123 deaths


Which Natural Disasters Occur in the USA?


All types of natural disasters occur in the United States. These include Severe storms, drought, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, winter storms, freeze events, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

Below we’ll go over each type of natural disaster and where it is most likely to occur in the United States.


Severe Storms


Severe storms are the most common type of major natural disaster in the United States. Since 2000, there have been 139 major severe storms in the United States, causing $325.7 billion in damages and 1,358 deaths. However, not all states are at risk.


States More At Risk of Major Severe Storms:

  1. Texas

  2. Illinois

  3. Missouri

  4. Oklahoma

  5. Indiana


States Least At Risk for Major Severe Storms:

  1. Connecticut

  2. Idaho

  3. Nevada

  4. Hawaii

  5. Alaska


Hurricanes/Tropical Storms


Hurricanes don’t occur as frequently as severe storms. However, when they do occur, they cause massive amounts of damage. The 40 severe hurricanes which occurred since 2000 caused $1,034 billion in damages (an average of $27.2 billion per event) and resulted in 6,356 deaths.


States More At Risk of Major Severe Hurricanes:

  1. Florida

  2. North Carolina

  3. Georgia

  4. Louisiana

  5. Alabama


States Least At Risk of Major Severe Hurricanes:

Many states have never seen a major hurricane or tropical cyclone. These include:

  1. Midwest States: Only Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois have had major tropical cyclones since 2000

  2. West States: New Mexico is the only Western State to have had a major tropical cyclone.

  3. Alaska

  4. Hawaii

  5. Maine


Drought


Drought has become an increasingly common natural disaster in many parts of the United States. Since 2000, there have been 19 major droughts in the United States, costing a total of $175 billion.


While droughts haven’t caused deaths, the heat waves associated with them have caused 852 deaths.


States More At Risk of Major Drought:

  1. California

  2. Oregon

  3. New Mexico

  4. Arizona

  5. Colorado

  6. Kansas


States Least At Risk for Major Drought:

  1. Hawaii

  2. Alaska

  3. New Hampshire

  4. Rhode Island

  5. Massachusetts

  6. Connecticut

  7. Vermont

  8. Maine



Wildfires


Since 2000, there have been 17 major wildfires in the United States. They caused $114.1 billion in damages ($7.1 billion per event) and 389 deaths.


Almost all Western States are at risk of wildfires, along with much of the Midwest and South. With global warming, wildfires are only expected to increase.   


States Most At Risk of Major Wildfires

  1. California

  2. Idaho

  3. Oregon

  4. Washington

  5. Montana

  6. Arizona


States Least At Risk of Major Wildfires

  1. Hawaii

  2. Northeast States

  3. Kentucky

  4. Arkansas

  5. Maryland

  6. Virginia

  7. West Virginia

  8. South Carolina

  9. Louisiana

  10. Wisconsin

  11. Kansas

  12. Illinois

  13. Missouri

  14. Ohio

  15. Indiana

  16. Michigan

  17. Iowa


Floods


There have been 25 major floods in the United States since 2000, costing $91.3 billion and claiming 318 lives. Remember that this number is only for floods that caused more than $1 billion in damage. Smaller floods occur much more frequently.


On average, the United States experiences an urban flood event once every 2-3 days. The damage from these more minor floods adds up quickly: 2/3 of all costs from natural disasters are from floods.  


Because of climate change, approximately 14.6 million properties in the USA are at risk of 100-year floods. This includes many homes inland that can still experience devastating floods due to river flooding and flash flooding from heavy rains.


Almost nowhere is safe: 99% of US counties are impacted by flooding.



Areas of the USA at risk of flooding


States Most At Risk of Major Floods:

  1. Missouri

  2. Louisiana

  3. Texas

  4. Arkansas

  5. Oklahoma

  6. Indiana

  7. Illinois

  8. Iowa

  9. Kansas


States Least At Risk for Major Floods:

Most Western States have a lower risk of flooding. However, the tradeoff is that these are the states where drought and wildfires are a concern. 


Winter Storms and Freeze Events


Since 2000, there have been just 11 major winter storm and freeze events in the United States. Interestingly, places known for cold weather (such as Alaska, North Dakota, and Minnesota) had no severe winter storm or freeze events.  


By contrast, the USA’s South Atlantic region– known for its mild weather – was more likely to have devastating winter storms or freeze events. 


This is because the region is less likely to be prepared for severe winter weather. Their infrastructure isn’t designed to handle extreme cold, so it takes a large toll when an event does happen.


The map shows where $1 billion in winter storms and freeze events have occurred in the USA since 2000



Earthquakes


High-magnitude earthquakes do not frequently occur in the United States. When they do occur, they are usually in sparsely populated areas and do not cause much damage. There have only been 22 deaths from earthquakes since 2000.


However, this does not mean Americans don’t have to worry about earthquakes. Many large cities in the USA are on significant fault lines. It would be devastating if a high-magnitude quake hit one of these areas. 


For example, if a magnitude 8 earthquake occurred on the San Andreas Fault (known as the “Big One”), thousands of people would be killed by debris and fires. The earthquake could also destroy infrastructure for power, water, gas, and sewage, leaving millions without access to vital utilities.  


Remember that nearly half of the nation’s food supply is grown in California. The LA port also handles a considerable percentage of the nation’s cargo shipments. So, supply chain disruptions from the earthquake would also affect the rest of the USA.



Volcano


Volcanic eruptions occur very rarely in the United States. Hawaii is the only state which has declared a disaster due to volcanoes. Only one person has died from a volcano in Hawaii this century.


However, like earthquakes, that doesn’t mean Americans shouldn’t worry about volcanoes. 


If the supervolcano under Yellowstone were to erupt, it would be catastrophic. The eruption could cause ash to spew thousands of miles across the USA. People in the immediate area would be buried under the ash. If they didn’t die immediately, they would suffer from respiratory problems. The ash would blanket land and cause crop failure, which could cause a famine.  



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