2017: One for the Natural Disaster Record Books

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There were twice as many major 2017 hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and North Atlantic than the long-term average. Three of those storms — Harvey, Irma and Maria — caused some $265 billion in damages. Including all weather-related U.S. losses in 2017, dollar-damage hit a new record total of $306 billion. The devastation resulted from more than just massive hurricanes, however.

Housing market analysts at CoreLogic released on Thursday their 2017 “Natural Hazard Risk Summary & Analysis,” which breaks down not only the damage from last year’s hurricanes but also looks at what happened last year related to wildfire, earthquake, tornado and other weather events.

When Hurricane Harvey hit south Texas in late August, for example, nearly 500,000 homes were affected, and of those 500,000 homes, an estimated 90,000 suffered severe damage from flooding. Almost 200,000 more homes suffered extensive flooding that impaired immediate occupancy, and an additional 200,000 suffered short-term impaired functionality.

Flooding from Harvey and Irma caused an estimated $69 to $105 in property damage last year and flooding in northern California caused $1.5 billion in property damage as the state’s years-long drought ended with nearly 28 inches of precipitation from rain and snow. Floods in April and May caused some $1.7 billion in damage across a swath of Midwestern states from Ohio to Oklahoma.

Wind damage, while also associated with hurricanes, affects nearly all parts of the country to some degree. Gusts of more than 80 mph affected about 2.6% of the land area of the Lower 48 states last year, a year-over-year increase of 400%.

Wildfires burned 9.79 million acres in the United States through December 22 of last year. Fires in California and Montana burned through about 1.2 million acres in each state, while fires in Oregon and Washington burned about 400,000 acres in each of those states. It was the third-worst year on recent record, behind 2015 (10.13 million acres) and 2006 (9.87 million acres).

Earthquakes shook things up as usual, but the year’s largest quake, a magnitude 5.8 shaker near Lincoln, Montana, that was the state’s largest in 60 years did little damage. Quakes that had been rising in Oklahoma plummeted again as new rules about wastewater injection in oil and gas wells took effect.

Hail storms were a particular issue in the Midwest and through the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys. A storm dropped baseball-sized hail on Denver last May and caused $1.4 billion in damage, primarily from damage to roofs and automobiles.

Tornadoes could number 1,522 for 2017 if every report of a tornado is confirmed. That would be the highest total since 2008 and the second-highest since record-keeping began in 1954. Georgia could post an all-time record of 131 tornadoes if all reports are verified.

CoreLogic also noted three other international incidents:

  • Hurricane Maria has caused between $20 billion and $25 billion in property damage in Puerto Rico.
  • A magnitude 7.1 earthquake in central Mexico caused more than $20 billion in damage.
  • Cyclone Debbie caused $1 billion to $2 billion in damage in Queensland, Australia.

The full report, Natural Hazard Risk Summary & Analysis, is available at the CoreLogic website.