Special Report

Worst Natural Disaster in Every State

Detailed Findings & Methodology

A look at natural disasters in each state offers a lesson in geography as well as climatology.

The majority of states along the Atlantic Coast have been slammed by a catastrophic hurricane, such as Sandy in 2012. Parts of states along the Mississippi River have been saturated by floods like the one that occurred in 1927. The Plains states, unprotected by mountain ranges, have borne the wrath of horrific snow storms such as the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888. The heavily forested sections of the western U.S. have been the sites of devastating wildfires, like the Big Burn in 1910. The far western states have been jolted by earthquakes, including the Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska in 1964. Hawaii has been rocked by recent volcanic eruptions.

Texas, California, and Florida are the most populous U.S. states, and all three have extensive coastlines, making them vulnerable to hurricanes, storm surge, and flooding.

No state has fallen victim to more kinds of natural cataclysms than Texas, which has been ravaged by hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. The city of Galveston holds the dubious distinction as the site of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, when a hurricane left 8,000 people dead in 1900. Killer tornadoes claimed 114 lives in Waco in 1953, the worst such outbreak in state history. The Brazos River has flooded many times, with sometimes deadly results, such as the 1899 flood that killed 284 people.

California has been pummeled by numerous earthquakes. The most infamous of them was the 1906 temblor that destroyed much of San Francisco and killed about 3,000 people. Other kinds of natural events have roiled the state as well, such as flooding that inundated Los Angeles in 1938 and convinced government officials to rethink the development of the city. Wildfires and mudslides have contributed to tragedies in California as well.

Major storms have taken the lives of hundreds of people in Florida over the years, including the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928 that claimed more than 2,500 people. Tornadoes — the U.S. has more of them than any other country — also have been a tragic fact of life in Florida, such as the outbreak in 1998 that killed 25 people.

People have learned from natural disasters. Technologies such as satellite imaging and early-warning systems, better architectural and engineering designs for buildings, and the use of geospatial data have helped limit the loss of life and property. The public’s reaction to the tragic events on this list eventually led to the improvement of safety codes and infrastructure.

Even so, recent events such as hurricanes Katrina and Harvey serve as cautionary tales of the power and unpredictability of nature.

Few could have foreseen the devastation wrought by the recent eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. As of this writing, there have been no fatalities resulting from the event.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed natural disasters in each state and determined the worst event by the number of fatalities. For this list we considered disasters caused by a naturally occurring event — tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, floods, ice storms, heat waves, avalanches, and volcanic eruptions. 24/7 Wall St. used government sources such as the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Geological Survey as well as media reports about these events to create the list of the worst natural disaster in every state.