Across the US climate change is increasing the risk of more severe natural disasters. We analyzed which states are most prone to experience a natural disaster.
In the wake of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires burning across many Western states and Minnesota, NeighborWho examined which states have suffered the most property damage from six major natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes/tropical storms, landslides, tornadoes and wildfires) over the past 25 years.
- Louisiana, ground zero for the recent strike by Hurricane Ida on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, is the worst state for natural disasters per capita, and the second worst by total cost of damage caused by natural disasters from 1995-2019.
- Floods were the worst natural disasters across all 50 states and the District of Columbia the past 25 years, but wildfires are the fastest-growing causes of property damage.
- Natural disaster damages are escalating—the most recent five-year period examined (2015-19) accounts for nearly one-third of the total property damage across the 25-year period, adjusted for 2019 dollars.
NeighborWho analyzed county-level statistics recorded through a variety of government agencies (see methodology for full details) for the years 1995-2019, the last full year of data available, to determine our findings.
- Flooding is the most expensive disaster in the past 25 years; hurricanes/tropical storms rank second. Not every state is at risk for coastal hurricanes or wildfires, but no state was immune to flooding disasters. Comparing the largest six categories for property damage, flooding ranked first ($227.3 billion), followed by hurricanes/tropical storms ($195.2 billion), tornadoes ($43.8 billion), wildfires ($36.3 billion), landslides ($5.3 billion) and earthquakes ($4.4 billion).
- Wildfires are the fastest growing natural disaster. Wildfires may be the fourth-largest source of property damage in the past quarter century, but breaking the past 25 years into five-year increments paint a different picture: Nearly 60% of wildfire property damage claims have been filed in the most recent five-year period (2015-19). Second fastest growing is flooding (the past five years accounts for about 36% of 25-year damage) followed by hurricanes (the past five years accounts for 31% of all claims).
- Is the US overdue for a large-scale earthquake? Our time period (1995-2019) just excludes the most damaging earthquake to hit the US in recent decades—the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California that caused an estimated $35 billion in damage, killed 60 and left 125,000 temporarily houseless.
- Per capita, Louisiana was hit hardest by natural disasters. For the 25-year period ending in 2019, state residents who suffered the most across all natural disasters lived in Louisiana ($19,799 per person), followed by Mississippi ($13,032), North Dakota ($9,953), Texas ($5,634) and Florida ($3,428).
- By total dollars of property damage, Louisiana is second to Texas. From 1995 to 2019, the state that accumulated the most disaster property damage by total dollars was Texas ($123.7 billion), followed by Louisiana ($84.9 billion), Florida ($38.1 billion), Mississippi ($38.1 billion) and California ($36.7 billion).
- States with the lowest risk of natural disasters had no hurricane, wildfire, earthquake or landslide damage claims. Location matters when it comes to exposure to potential natural disasters. The five top states for lowest natural disaster claims the past 25 years didn’t see damage except for flooding and tornadoes. States with the lowest per capita property damages over the 25-year period are Connecticut ($60), followed by Arizona ($89), Rhode Island ($122), Massachusetts ($128) and New Hampshire ($142). By total damage, the best states were Wyoming ($84.6 million), Rhode Island ($129 million), Delaware ($137.6 million) New Hampshire ($187.4 million) and Montana ($198.5 million).
- Louisiana and North Dakota have been hardest hit by flooding. States with the most property damage per resident from flooding are Louisiana ($12,619), followed by North Dakota ($9,697), Mississippi ($5,771), New Jersey ($3,050) and Vermont ($2,710). By total damage, the worst states were Texas ($62.9 billion), Louisiana ($54.2 billion), New Jersey ($26.5 billion), Mississippi ($16.9 billion) and North Dakota ($6.2 billion).
- Louisiana and Mississippi are the worst states per capita for hurricane/tropical storms. The worst states were Louisiana ($7,043 per person), followed by Mississippi ($6,541), Florida ($3,033), Texas ($2,763) and North Carolina ($1,568). By total 25-year property damage the view changes to Texas ($66 billion), Florida ($55.4 billion), Louisiana ($30.2 billion), Mississippi ($19.1 billion) and North Carolina ($14.2 billion).
- Oklahoma and Alabama are the worst states for tornadoes. The worst states for tornadoes per capita since 1995 were Oklahoma ($1,422), Alabama ($1,292), Missouri ($831), Mississippi ($719) and Arkansas ($713). By total property damage, the view shifts to Alabama ($6 billion), Oklahoma ($5.1 billion), Missouri ($4.9 billion), Texas ($4.6 billion) and Mississippi ($2.1 billion).
- New Mexico and California are the worst states for wildfires. The worst states for wildfires per capita are New Mexico ($1,202), California ($768), Idaho ($379), Colorado ($350) and Washington ($71). By total property damage, the worst states were California ($28.1 billion), New Mexico ($2.4 billion), Colorado ($1.7 billion), Texas ($1.1 billion) and Florida ($969.8 million).
- Washington is by far the worst state per capita for landslides. In the past 25 years, Washington residents on average paid $258 for landslide property damage, followed by Utah ($93), California ($80), Virginia ($26) and Montana ($19). By total damage, the top rankings are California ($2.9 billion), Washington ($1.7 billion), Utah ($245.2 million), Virginia ($198.7 million) and North Carolina ($76.3 million).
- Washington is also the worst state for earthquake property damage since 1995. Washington paid per capita $452 for earthquake property damage, followed by Alaska ($118), Hawaii ($73), California ($36) and Montana ($1). Worst states by total earthquake property damage were Washington ($2.9 billion), California ($1.3 billion), Hawaii ($93.8 million) and Alaska ($80.8 million) and Montana ($1.3 million).
NeighborWho analyzed 25 years of most recent full-year data (1995-2019) of county-level property damage totals from the SHELDUS (Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States) maintained by the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security at Arizona State University. The data are used by states to plan for natural disasters as well as inform the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Risk Index.
Original sources of SHELDUS include these National Centers for Environmental Information divisions: Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena, and Global Significant Earthquake Database; the United States Geological Survey; the US Department of Agriculture; the US Bureau of Labor Statistics; and the US Census Bureau.
Overall property damage totals include other natural disasters beyond the six in our analysis. Per capita figures based on the population levels of the midpoint year (2007) of the 25-year period examined in our study. Data from all 50 US states and the District of Columbia were included in this study.
For more information, contact Kerry Sherin, [email protected].
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