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Billion Dollar Storms

The Most Damaging Storms in US History


Fishing boat wrecked by hurricane Katrina
John Wang/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

United States Severe Weather Damages the Economy of the Country with Billion Dollar Price Tags

Storms cost the United States millions and even billions of dollars. The NOAA National Climatic Data Center stores years of information about storm types and frequencies that cost the United States money, property damage, and lives. Some of the most severe weather in the world hits the United States for 5 main reasons including geographic location, the large size of the US, and the ocean currents in the Western Atlantic.

Historical Records Show Storm Costs from 1980 to 2005
NOAA keeps track of storms including hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards, heat waves, droughts, and non-tropical flooding. Each storm represents and carries with it different damage costs. Of course a dollar is not what it used to be. In fact inflationary trends are taken into account when dealing with historical data produced by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The State with the Least Severe Storm Damage
The safest place to live to ride out any type of severe weather seems to be Michigan. According to a NOAA Climactic Data Center report, Michigan has suffered only 1-3 events that create a severe weather hazard costing a billion dollars or more. The sum total of all storms in that area have exceeded over 1 billion in damages, but this is nothing when compared to the dangerous states.

The States with the Most Severe Storm Damage
Topping the list of billion dollar weather events are four states.

  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Alabama
Each state has had roughly 21-25 severe weather events which have created billions of dollars in damages since 1980. The geographic locations of these states on the Eastern United States and Gulf areas make them especially susceptible to severe weather conditions including Atlantic hurricanes.

The Most Expensive Severe Weather Events May Surprise You
The two most expensive types of severe weather are

  • Hurricanes and Tornadoes
  • Heat waves and Droughts
With the exception of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, not even Hurricane Andrew cost as much as the severe droughts that took over 15,000 lives in 1980 and again in 1988. With costs of the severe weather adjusted to 2002 dollars, hurricane Andrew cost the US approximately 36 billion dollars. The drought of 1980 cost over 48 billion while the 1988 droughts cost almost 62 billion.

The actual costs of heat waves and droughts are harder to determine. One of the main reasons is the prolonged nature of heat waves and droughts. The main costs are in loss of agriculture. Homes and lives do not immediately see the coming storm of a drought or heat wave. Often, the damages are prolonged over a longer period of time. In addition, the large death tolls include heat related illnesses like heat stroke.

Hurricane Katrina is the Most Expensive Natural Disaster in US History

All other storms pale in the face of Hurricane Katrina. With an estimated 100 billion dollar cost, Hurricane Katrina stands out as one of the worst natural disasters in US history. The damage path was so widespread and intense, that clean-up will continue for years to come. Watch a short video clip of the path of Hurricane Katrina over the gulf region courtesy of the NASA Scientific Visualization Studios. (Under 10 seconds, MPEG-1, 1 MB)

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