Special Report

Worst Natural Disasters in the US in the Last 10 Years

“Incidents of extreme weather are projected to increase as a result of climate change,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the climate crisis continues to intensify. The last four years have been the four hottest years since NOAA began keeping records 139 years ago. Additionally, sea levels have risen by 8 inches since 1880, and 3.7 inches since 1995. Meanwhile, extreme weather events are becoming more common and more catastrophic.

While it is difficult to attribute a single extreme weather event to climate change, the broad trends more easily demonstrate the effects of a warming planet. For example, in the last decade, there have been 111 climate related natural disasters that have caused at least $1 billion in damage. Over the preceding decade, there were only 59 such disasters.

Between 2010 and mid-2019, major storms and climate-related events caused a total of $761 billion in damage and killed nearly 5,200 people in the United States. In comparison, the most destructive natural disasters in the previous decade caused $507 billion in damage and killed 3,051 people. In fact, since 1980, 39% of all deaths and 45% of all damage from major natural disasters occured within the last 10 years.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2019) to identify the worst climate related natural disasters in the last 10 years. For the purposes of this story, the natural disaster’s severity was determined by the estimated number of people killed, either directly or indirectly, as reported by NOAA. Only storms in which there were at least five known fatalities were considered. For comparison purposes, all estimates of cost of damages were adjusted for inflation.

It is important to note that not all disasters on this list are single discrete events. For example, based on NOAA’s classifications, wildfires that occur within the same season — even if they span different regions — are typically grouped together as a single event. Similarly, a single storm system can produce hundreds of tornadoes and span multiple states over the course of several days, but all are still grouped under a single entry. Other events on this list, like droughts, can span the majority of the country and last for the better part of a year.

Many of the most destructive and deadly storms are hurricanes. Of the 50 worst natural disasters of the last decade, nine are hurricanes, including Hurricane Maria, the deadliest billion dollar storm to hit the United States since at least 1980. Here is a full list of the most powerful hurricanes of all time.

While high-wind events like hurricanes and tornadoes are common on this list, it is not the wind that is often the most destructive aspect of these storms. Tornadoes typically come with thunderstorms that can bring torrential rain. And along with rain, hurricanes can bring storm surges to coastal areas. These conditions often bring about flooding — and many of the natural disasters on this list would not have been nearly as harmful if not been for the flooding they caused. Here is a look at the worst floods in American history.

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