The United States weathers more natural disasters than any other country in the world. From hurricanes to tornadoes, flooding to fires, Americans are dealing with some costly natural disasters. These weather events can be devastating for families and businesses alike. Here is a list of the top five states in the US that are hit hardest by natural disasters each year.
Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is especially vulnerable to hurricanes, and 2017's Hurricane Irma and 2018's Hurricane Michael, both Category 5 storms, were some of the strongest and most destructive hurricanes in the state's history. Florida is hit by costly hurricanes annually, but they aren't the only major natural disasters that Florida experiences. The state also sees a large number of tornadoes each year. In fact, between 1949 and 2016, there were more than 800 reported twisters that touched down in the Sunshine State. Additionally, severe flooding from both tornadoes and hurricanes has caused costly damage throughout the state.
Hurricanes and tornadoes aside, Florida is no stranger to severe thunderstorms that can produce lightning, hail, and heavy rain. Florida has taken steps to minimize weather disasters like hurricanes by building up its coastline with sandbags and installing advanced weather warning systems along major cities' coastlines.
Just like Florida, Louisiana is a natural disaster-prone southern state. Due to its location along the Atlantic coast and Gulf coast, and the fact that it shares borders with Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas, it sees its fair share of disastrous climate-related events every year.
Louisiana has spent years recovering from Katrina, the crippling 2005 storm that government officials say killed roughly 1600 people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. Louisiana is still on the mend from one of the costliest and deadliest storms in US history. It hit Louisiana with winds of 140 mph and a storm surge of up to 30 feet, making it one of the worst and most deadly hurricanes in American history.
Hurricanes aren't the only major natural disaster that the state deals with. Louisiana has also dealt with major flooding in recent years, which has killed tens of people and resulted in more than $100 million worth of damage to Louisiana's infrastructure alone. Flooding, along with hurricanes, is one of nature's most costly weather-related disasters.
Just north of Texas, the flat state of Oklahoma is especially prone to natural disasters due to its location and overall geography. Oklahoma has dealt with several earthquakes in recent years, some of which have reached an intensity level of over seven on the Richter scale. Earthquakes are surprisingly common here, but they are typically not too intense or harmful. Natural disasters in Oklahoma have also included weather-related events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, hail storms and winter weather conditions.
Oklahoma is also one of America's most tornado-prone states, accounting for nearly 20% percent of all tornadoes occurring in the US each year, with an average of 55 twisters every year. The deadliest tornado in Oklahoma history hit near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on May 23, 1999, with winds of up to 300 mph. This intense storm killed 36 people, injured more, and caused an estimated $2 billion in damages. Similarly, in 2013, the Moore Tornado hit the state and is second in deaths to the 1999 tornado that ripped through the area.
While tornadoes are the most common disaster, Oklahoma also has endured severe winter storms, wildfires, and flooding. In the state's history, there have been nine ice storms that were severe enough to merit presidential disaster proclamations. Oklahoma has been facing a drought for years now, and it is expected to get worse according to US climate experts.
Natural disasters are a very common occurrence in the most populous US state. Earthquakes are frequent in California. Over the last 67 years, the state has experienced at least a dozen serious earthquakes, including the 1994 Northridge quake, which was the most costly in United States history. The Northridge quake caused the deaths of 57 people and over $20 billion dollars of infrastructure damage. Being on a fault line, California experiences anywhere from small earthquakes that cause no or minimal damage to less frequent but severe earthquakes that lead to building and bridge collapses.
In 1989, California suffered through the Loma Prieta Earthquake. While the quake lasted 20 seconds, it was rated a 6.9 on the Richter scale and was felt into the bordering state of Nevada. This is the deadliest California earthquake on record, causing over 60 deaths, 3,700 injuries, and damages as high as $10 billion. Notable damage from this earthquake (and ensuing deaths) was the collapse of part of the interstate system in Oakland. The aftershocks nearby even caused damage to downtown Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
While California is prone to earthquakes, some of the biggest damage and costliest damage comes from wildfires. One of the biggest wildfires in California history was the Cedar Fire. The fire burned areas in San Diego County, destroying over $700 million worth of property and killing 15 people. In 2020 alone, a record wildfire season burned over four million acres across the state. This displaced hundreds of residents, and many lost their homes.
California wildfires have become more destructive every year. The 2020 wildfire season was the most destructive in California history. Thirty-one people were killed and over 10,000 structures were destroyed or damaged. The August Complex fire that erupted in the Coast Range of Northern California grew to an unbelievable size of over a million acres.
Texas takes the top spot for the state most prone to natural disasters. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the state, and it has been described as the worst natural catastrophe in its history. The storm drenched Houston with more than four feet of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Flooding caused by historic rainfall sent homeowners rushing to their roofs in an attempt to flee the rising water. According to reports, the storm killed 88 people and caused $125 billion in damage.
The Lone Star State has also seen floods, tornadoes, severe ice storms, and drought, with over 255 federally declared disasters since 1953. Every year, at least one major catastrophe event is declared in the state of Texas. The southern extent of “Tornado Alley” extends into Texas' heart, producing twisters throughout the year. In the spring and fall, hurricanes (like the aforementioned Hurricane Harvey) can cause severe damage in the southern portions of the state. Extreme temperatures in the summer create conditions that lead to devastating droughts and widespread blazes. Despite the low annual precipitation, significant regions of Texas are frequently inundated during bursts of intense, short-term rainfall.
As far as costly natural disasters go, Texas has experienced 94 billion-dollar storms since 1980. The most expensive natural catastrophe to hit Texas is now believed to be Hurricane Harvey, which has resulted in an estimated $190 billion damage. It is also projected to be the nation's second- or third-costliest natural calamity, according to forecasts.
The US and its Unique Geography Make for Unprecedented Natural Disasters.
The US is one of the most dangerous countries to live in, weather-wise. More than 80% of weather-related disasters are concentrated on the North American continent. The unique geography of this country makes for unprecedented natural calamities that result in huge financial costs and loss of life. No other nation has as many types of natural hazards as the US. Regardless of if you live in these top five states, you should always be prepared with an emergency plan in place for when disaster strikes.