2017 Likely Ranks in Top 3 For Most Billion-Dollar Weather Disasters in the U.S. During a Single Year

Chris Dolce
Published: October 4, 2017

The destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have likely vaulted 2017 into a top three ranking for the most billion-dollar weather disasters on record in the United States.

Homes are surrounded by floodwater after torrential rains from Harvey in Orange, Texas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Through the first six months of 2017, the U.S. had already tallied up nine billion-dollar weather disasters, mostly due to numerous severe weather and flooding events.

That was already a near-record pace topped only by 2016 and 2011, which had 10 such events by the halfway mark in the year, according to NOAA's National Centers For Environmental Information (NCEI).

Although the official damage costs are not available yet for Harvey, Irma and Maria, they will likely be deemed billion-dollar weather disasters in NOAA's database.

(RECAPS: Harvey | Irma | Maria)

That makes a preliminary total of 12 billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2017 when adding the three hurricanes to the nine other weather disasters that were already confirmed by NOAA in the first half of 2017.

Locations and dates of the confirmed nine billion-dollar weather disasters so far in 2017 along with likely additions of Harvey, Irma and Maria to the list.

Only two other years in NOAA's database dating to 1980 will have had more billion-dollar weather disasters than 2017, assuming Harvey, Irma and Maria are added. The top two years are 2011 and 2016 which had 16 and 15 billion-dollar weather disasters, respectively.

All but one of the billion-dollar weather disasters in 2017 have occurred east of the Rocky Mountains in the Lower 48 states and/or in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. (RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

The lone exception was California's flooding in February, which cost $1.5 billion. For the Golden State, that was a major turn of events considering the billions that the state suffered from losses due to a multi-year drought in previous years. 

All told, there have been 212 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the U.S. since NCEI began tracking them in 1980, totaling $1.2 trillion in damage. On average over that period, the nation has seen five to six such disasters each year.

Severe thunderstorm events have made up the largest share of these disasters in the U.S., with tropical cyclones, floods and droughts trailing far behind. Interestingly, NCEI notes that tropical cyclones are, on average, the most costly per event ($16.5 billion), followed by droughts ($9.7 billion).

Hurricane Katrina is the costliest U.S. weather disaster in NCEI's database since 1980.


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