Since 1980, tropical cyclones have been the costliest type of weather-related disaster in the United States, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). The NCEI study includes events that caused at least one billion dollars in damages when adjusted for inflation.
Accounting for just under a fifth (17.6%) of the total number of events, tropical cyclones have caused more than half (53.8%) of the total damages.
Tropical cyclones also cause more deaths than any other type of weather-related disaster.
Types of Events Compared
NCEI monitors the following types of disasters:
- Inland floods
- Severe local storms
- Crop freeze events
- Winter storms
Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained at least 341 billion-dollar, weather disasters (including Consumer Price Index adjustment to 2022). The total cost of these 341 events exceeds $2.4 trillion.
Out of that total, tropical cyclones have caused a combined $1.3 trillion in total damages—with an average of $22.2 billion per event. They leave droughts in the dust. Droughts are the second costliest.
Rank ordered based on average cost per event, they line up like this:
- Tropical Cyclones – $22.2 billion
- Drought – $10.9 billion
- Wildfires – $6.3 billion
- Flooding – $4.8 billion
- Winter storms – $4.3 billion
- Freezes – $3.9 billion
- Severe storms – $2.4 billion
The table below contains additional information about the frequency of billion dollar events, their total costs, and the number of deaths they cause.
No Region Immune
All parts of the county experience weather-related disasters. The dominant types of disasters vary by region. For instance winter storms are more costly in the north, droughts in the plains, and tropical cyclones along seaboards.
Cost of Disasters Increasing
Both the number and cost of billion-dollar weather-related disasters are increasing over time. Here’s the breakdown by year.
Reasons Cited for Increases
Exercise caution when interpreting the upward slope of the graph above. It would be easy to attribute the slope solely to climate change and many people will,
But NCEI points out that increases in population, and material wealth over the last several decades are an important factor for higher damages. So are the locations of population concentrations and failure to adopt better building codes.
“These trends are further complicated by the fact that many population centers and infrastructure exist in vulnerable areas like coasts and river floodplains, while building codes are often insufficient in reducing damage from extreme events,” says NCEI.
In calculating the cost assessments, we receive input from a variety of public and private data sources including:
- Insurance Services Office
- Federal Emergency Management Agency
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- National Interagency Fire Center
- Energy Information Administration
- U.S. Army Corps
- State agencies
- Other partners
Each of these data sources provides key pieces of information that capture the total, direct costs—both insured and uninsured—of weather and climate events. These costs include:
- Physical damage to residential, commercial, and government or municipal buildings
- Material assets within a building
- Time element losses like business interruption
- Vehicles and boats
- Offshore energy platforms, electrical infrastructure, military bases
- Public infrastructure like roads, bridges, levees, buildings
- Agricultural assets like crops, livestock, and timber
- Disaster restoration and wildfire suppression costs
One of the key transformations is scaling up insured loss data to account for uninsured and underinsured losses, which differs by peril, geography, and asset class.
Costs Do Not Include…
However, these loss assessments do not take into account losses to natural capital or assets, health-care-related losses, or values associated with loss of life. Therefore, consider NCEI estimates conservative with respect to what is truly lost, but cannot be completely measured.
Posted by Bob Rehak based on Information from NCEI
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