In the four decades since NOAA began record-keeping on disasters, the 2010s accounted for nearly half the total number of disasters and cost, even after adjusting for inflation.
The 2010s had 119 billion-dollar disasters (double the previous decade), with total costs exceeding $800 billion.
Many individual states show similar trends. Compared to the three previous decades, the 2010s had the most billion-dollar disasters in 34 of 52 states and territories (65%). States in the central U.S. had the largest recent spike: the 2010s experienced 33 more disasters in Texas, 23 more in Illinois, and 22 more in Missouri.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Many of these disasters are getting worse with climate change, although some events are easier to attribute to climate change than others. Warmer oceans can fuel the rapid intensification of hurricanes, while a warmer and wetter atmosphere intensifies their rainfall. Heavier downpours worsen inland flooding and crop damage; coastal flooding is heightened by sea level rise. And extended heat and drought can set the stage for more dangerous wildfires in the West and Alaska.
Every region faces its own climate risks, as described in the most recent National Climate Assessment. And according to our report last year with the University of Hawaii, many areas’ worst impacts could compound in the future.
Climate adaptation measures can reduce those risks, whether that means restoring coastal wetlands or doing prescribed burns (when possible) in wildfire-prone areas. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the average dollar spent on pre-disaster adaptation has saved $6 in post-disaster recovery. As with greenhouse gas emissions, today’s adaptation and mitigation choices shape the severity of tomorrow’s impacts.
POTENTIAL LOCAL STORY ANGLES
How expensive are the disasters affecting your local area?
Pew Trusts report that there are challenges to assessing state spending preparation for and recovery from disasters. You can search for current and historical National Flood and Insurance Program (NFIP)policy and claims statistics by state or county, including information about significant historical flooding events. And you can find more state-level statistics on insurance claims at the Insurance Information Institute.
Tools for reporting on extreme weather events and disasters near you:
A number of journalism schools and organizations provide advice for responsibly reporting on disasters, including focusing on safety, data, and cultural sensitivity.You can find preparedness materials for hurricanes, flooding, and other health emergencies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
After disasters, what hazard mitigation or adaptation measures are happening in your local area?
The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit discusses climate impacts by region of the country. It also provides links to numerous government agencies, tools for assessing hazards, and case studies of adaptation and resilience efforts around the country. And the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri has created a reporters’ guide to climate adaptation.
EXTREME WEATHER TOOLKITS
More information on how climate change relates to types of extreme weather, including:
LOCAL INTERVIEW IDEAS
The SciLine service,500 Women Scientists or the press offices of local universities may be able to connect you with local scientists or climatologists who have expertise on extreme weather events or disasters in your area.
The EPA provides a list of emergency response commissions’ contact information for each state and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) can connect you with local members or experts around the country.
NATIONAL INTERVIEW SUGGESTIONS
Applied Climatologist, Center for Weather and Climate, National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)
HOW WE GOT THE DATA
Data source: NOAA NCEI U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (1980-2019). The cost has been adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The methodology developed by NOAA NCEI, with input from economic experts and consultants to remove biases, can be found at https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/overview. Additional review of the methodology can be found in Smith and Katz, 2013. For even more context, see FAQ here and analysis here.