11 US Natural Disasters Last Year Each Caused Over $1 Billion in Damages

January 18, 2019 by Paul Ausick

Compared to 2017, last year’s estimate for natural disasters causing more than $1 billion in damages appears to be a big improvement. There were 11 events in 2018 that caused more than $1 billion in damage compared with 16 events in 2017. The damage total in 2017 rang in at $306 billion.

The totals are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data through the end of November and were reported Friday by property analytics firm CoreLogic. Because NOAA is not functioning during the federal government shutdown, the agency’s annual report on billion-dollar events is not available. Damage from 2018’s 11 billion-dollar events totaled $49 billion as of December, according to NOAA data cited by Vox.

Three major hurricanes collectively caused $265 billion in 2017 damage: Harvey, $125 billion; Irma, $50 billion, and Maria, $90 billion. Excluding these three storms, 2017’s total falls to $41 billion, much more in line with the 2018 total.

Two major hurricanes caused damages in a range of $20.5 billion to $31 billion, according to CoreLogic’s report. Of that total, Hurricane Florence, which hammered the eastern seaboard in September, was responsible for $20 billion to $30 billion, with $13 billion to $18.5 billion caused by flooding and the rest due to wind damage. Hurricane Michael, a faster moving storm that blew over Florida’s panhandle, caused $2 billion to $3 billion in wind damage and up to $1 billion in flood damage.

The other major category of disaster events in 2018 is wildfires. The number of acres burned in 2018 was the eighth highest in U.S. history at about 8.5 million. All the top 10 largest fires have occurred since the year 2000, and five have occurred since 2010. All have exceeded the 30-year average of around 5.5 million acres burned per year.

California’s Camp Fire, which started in early November and burned for nearly three weeks before being contained, wiped out the town of Paradise, killed at least 86 people and caused $16.5 billion in property damage, according to reinsurance firm Munich Re. The fire was the world’s costliest natural disaster in 2018 and, if power company PG&E goes through with its plans to declare bankruptcy, the ancillary losses could be much higher.

Munich Re’s report, released last week, puts the global cost of natural disasters for last year at $160 billion, of which half were insured. The total exceeds the 30-year inflation-adjusted average of $140 billion, while the insured losses came in at nearly twice the 30-year average of $41 billion.

Visit the CoreLogic website to view the entire report.