The 15 most expensive U.S. natural disasters since 1980


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When a natural disaster comes our way, we can feel powerless to its effects. And those effects don’t just hurt our hometowns, but our pockets as well. 2017 alone was marked by 16 natural disasters in America causing $306 billion in damage. Now that we’re well into hurricane season, fears of further damage are getting very real on the East Coast.

The question is, how much do these individual disasters cost? Thanks to data from a report called the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters (2018), we now know. Using data from the NCEI, we’ve identified some of the costliest natural disasters to hit America since 1980.

Image Credit: NASA.

15. Hurricane Charley

Cost: $21.8 billion
Deaths: 35
When it hit: August 2004
States affected: Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina
Details: Southwest Florida and the Carolinas were hit with a storm surge and powerful winds from this Category 4 hurricane.

Image Credit: FEMA.

14. Hurricane Rita

Cost: $24.4 billion
Deaths: 119
When it hit: September 2005
States affected: Landed in Louisiana and Texas, also affected Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas 
Details: The coasts of Louisiana and Texas saw the entry of this Category 3 hurricane, while the storm surge and wind caused flooding in several other states in the South.

Image Credit: NOAA.

13. Hurricane Wilma

Cost: $25.1 billion
Deaths: 35
When it hit: October 2005
States affected: Florida
Details: Winds and flooding from this Category 3 hurricane mostly affected southeastern Florida.

Image Credit: NOAA.

12. Hurricane Ivan

Cost: $27.9 billion
Deaths: 57 
When it hit: September 2004
States affected: Landed in Alabama and also affected Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia
Details: The gulf coast of Alabama bore the brunt of this Category 3 hurricane, whose wind and flooding also affected a great many other states along the East Coast. 

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

11. Drought of 1980

Cost: $32.4 billion
Deaths: 1,260
When it hit: Summer through Fall of 1980
States affected: Central and Eastern United States
Details: The agriculture industry also took a hit from the drought of 1980, as did residents of the U.S. This drought directly and indirectly led to 10,000 deaths from heat stress.

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10. Drought of 2012

Cost: $33.3 billion
Deaths: 123
When it hit: Much of 2012
States affected: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming
Details: According to NCEI, “the 2012 drought is the most extensive drought to affect the U.S. since the 1930s.” This drought, which affected more than half of the U.S. for more than half of the year, led to “harvest failure” for crops like corn, soybeans, and more.

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9. Hurricane Ike

Cost: $35.7 billion
Deaths: 112
When it hit: September 2008
States affected: Landed in Texas but also affected Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee
Details: This Category 2 hurricane led to “the largest (in size) Atlantic hurricane on record.” Besides the damage to homes and businesses, damage to oil platforms, gasoline storage tanks, and more led to shortages of gasoline along the southeastern states.

Image Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

8. Floods of 1993

Cost: $36.9 billion
Deaths: 48
When it hit: Summer of 1993
States affected: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
Details: Rain and thunderstorms in central U.S. in 1993 led to what the NCEI calls, “the most costly non-tropical, inland flood event to affect the United States on record.”

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7. Drought of 1988

Cost: $43.4 billion
Deaths: 454
When it hit: Summer of 1988
States affected: According to Chicago’s WGN9, “At one point, 45 percent of the Lower 48 was in a state of extreme drought and 11 states declared all of their counties ‘disaster areas.’”
Details: The exact number of deaths from drought conditions in 1988 may have come in at 454, but it’s estimated that heat stress from the drought directly and indirectly took the lives of 5,000 people. 

Image Credit:

6. Hurricane Andrew

Cost: $49.1 billion

Deaths: 61 
When it hit: August 1992
States affected: Florida, Louisiana
Details: Florida took the brunt of this Category 5 hurricane, as some 160,000 residents of Dade County alone lost their homes.

Image Credit: NOAA.

5. Hurricane Irma

Cost: $51 billion

Deaths: 97

When it hit: September 2017
States affected: Florida, South Carolina and the islands of St. John, and St. Thomas
Details: According to NCEI, this Category 4 hurricane destroyed or damaged 90 percent of the buildings in the Florida keys after “devastating” U.S. Virgin Islands St. John and St. Thomas.

Image Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

4. Hurricane Sandy

Cost: $72.2 billion

Deaths: 159
When it hit: October 2012
States affected: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia
Details: This hurricane wasn’t just a hurricane, but it met with a Nor’Easter and was so severe that even the New York Stock Exchange had to close for two days — something that hasn’t happened since 1888.

Image Credit: NASA.

3. Hurricane Maria

Cost: $91.8 billion (and counting)

Deaths: 65
When it hit: September 2017
Areas affected: Mainly Puerto Rico, but also St. Croix
Details: Data on this Category 4 hurricane (including the deaths caused by it) is still being collected. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico has sustained so much damage that the standard of living has still not returned to normal.

Image Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

2. Hurricane Harvey

Cost: $127.5 billion
Deaths: 89
When it hit: August 2017
States affected: Texas
Details: Seven days of rain met with flooding in this Category 4 hurricane that caused 30,000 people to become displaced and more than 200,000 homes and businesses to be damaged.

Image Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

1. Hurricane Katrina

Cost: $165 billion
Deaths: 1,833
When it hit: August 2005
States Affected: Mainly Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but also Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee
Details: Known for broken levees, political fallout, and many in the city of New Orleans becoming homeless, Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 3 hurricane, tops this list of most expensive natural disasters in America since 1980.

Afraid of what might happen to your personal finances if a disaster strikes your hometown? Read here to learn what happens to your credit after a natural disaster

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Image Credit: Larry W. Kachelhofer / Wiki Commons.