Helping Business Weather the Storm

Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters Are Becoming More Common

by Daphne Thompson, on Nov 7, 2017 1:05:40 PM

Weather and climate disasters are occurring at an alarming rate in the US. Hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornadoes; all can cause a catastrophic loss in a matter of seconds. But are these extreme events occurring more often than in past decades?

Using data that reaches back to 1980, provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information, there have been 241 weather and climate disasters that met or exceeded $1 billion in damage. Significant loss of life also occurred with many of these events. Before we get into the numbers, it is important to note that some amounts may be underestimated due to damage to uninsured property. Numbers have been adjusted for inflation.

If we divide the total number of disasters by decade, we see that the 2010s are beating each of the past three decades.

Percentage of $B Disasters Per Decade- 2018 Data

Looking at the cost of disasters per decade, the trend is increasing. The federal government has spent over $740 billion during the past decade responding to extreme weather.


Cost of Disasters Per Decade in Billions- 2018 Data

There were more billion-dollar severe storms and tropical cyclones than other types of weather in the 80s, 90s, and 00s. In our current decade, severe storms and flooding have dominated. The number of expensive severe storms in the 2010s totals more than in the previous 30 years combined.

Disaster Type Per Decade- 2018 Data


These storms not only cause destruction but also lead to many fatalities. The total number of deaths due to billion-dollar disasters since 1980 is 13,188. Breaking this down, the percentages were fairly equal until the current decade. 

Percent Per Decade of Total Fatalities- 2018 Data


If we dive a bit deeper into the fatalities, we can see what type of disasters are leading to these numbers. You can also pick out specific events. Drought, including heatwaves, caused over 1,200 fatalities in the summer/fall of 1980. Tornado outbreaks in the spring of 2011 lead to over 500 deaths, 160 of these were from the Joplin, Missouri tornado. Hurricane Maria in 2017 dominates the Tropical Cyclone category where over 2,980 people lost their lives.

Fatalities Per Decade- 2018 Data

Do these numbers tell the story of climate change? Are they due to a larger population? In 1980, over 226 million people lived here while the 2016 census numbers total more than 323 million. Extreme weather impacts have already cost the federal government billions of dollars, and more billions have been lost due to these events. One thing is for sure; there are more billion-dollar disasters than ever recorded before, and this number is expected to rise in the future. 

NOTE: Data updated March 20, 2019