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Hurricanes, floods, fires: which US states are most prone to natural disasters

Under the influence of climate change, natural disasters across the United States are becoming more extreme, more costly and more deadly. Reader's Digest.

Photo: Shutterstock

The country is in danger

It is unlikely that you clicked on a link about states prone to natural disasters and expected good news. There really will be few of them. Although extreme weather events are not new, they are on the rise in the United States and around the world. For example, June 2020 was the third hottest on record (on a par with 2015, with 2019 and 2016 in the lead), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Other weather-related events are also depressing.

There are many ways to calculate what makes the “worst” weather, such as the increase in the number or severity of natural disasters from year to year, the financial impact, the number of people displaced, and human deaths. Below we will consider the states that, in one way or another, are considered the most prone to various natural disasters.

Severe weather in general

Texas, which is prone to floods, hurricanes, and even winter storms, is the winner in this category by a number of estimates. And according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the state has already been impacted by five extreme weather events in 2020, from high winds and hail, which also hit the wide swath of the Midwest and Ohio Valley in March, to a tornado in late May, and (just a week later) a massive hailstorm in South Texas that caused $ 1,2 billion in damage. Add in the period from 2015 to 2019 and you have 20 more severe droughts, severe storms, tornadoes, floods and tons of other natural events.

The state also boasts the second most expensive natural disaster ever to hit the United States, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which was the second worst hit after Katrina in 2005.


The states that are most vulnerable to hurricanes are most often affected by flooding. Texas and Florida's Gulf Coast undoubtedly have more of them, as well as the Mississippi River area. Let's not forget about flood-prone Louisiana, a third of which experienced a historic amount of rain and flood in August 2016 with more than 31 inches of rain (79 cm) in the city of Watson in 72 hours. According to NOAA, 50 homes were destroyed, 13 people died and the state suffered nearly $ 11 billion in damage.


Is Florida the hurricane capital of the United States? Maybe. Hurricane Irma maintained a maximum sustained wind of 185 mph (298 kilometers per hour) for 37 hours in 2017, devastating the Florida Keys. And in 2018, Hurricane Michael, the first Category 5 storm to hit the U.S. mainland since Andrew in 1992, caused storm surges over 15 feet, according to the Climate and Energy Solutions Center. Michael also killed 49 people. Thanks to its hurricanes, Florida has the second highest total disaster damage - $ 225 billion - after Texas over the past 40 years.

On the subject: What if you live in a state where there are hurricanes

Lightning strikes

Here again Florida is the main winner - it is not for nothing that this state is called the Capital of Lightning. Adjusted for density (i.e. the highest number of lightning strikes per square mile), Florida climbed to 228 in 2019. You can take this into account in more understandable numbers: Texas wins with a total of 47 397 975 lightning in 2019. And while lightning from the side may look cool, one strike carries a core temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (000 Celsius). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning, this can not only kill you, causing a heart attack, but it can also lead to devastating fires and damage to structures. 27% of lightning strikes on humans result in death. There were 760 lightning deaths in the United States in 10; 2019 deaths each occurred in Florida and Texas. And yes, it's dangerous to shower during a thunderstorm.


Have you thought of California as the state most destroyed by wildfires? If so, you are right. Year after year, California continues to experience devastating fires. In 2015, the state suffered $ 1 billion in damage from wildfires; 44 people died as a result of fires that engulfed the state from summer to fall 2017; and 106 people have died and nearly 1,7 million acres burned down in the historic 2018 fires. Although 2019 was not nearly as deadly, the fires caused billions of dollars in damage. Fires are natural in the West, but man-made climate change is increasing their severity and lengthening the season.


Drought is increasing in many states in the southwest and plains and is causing huge losses in agriculture. But California has been hit hardest lately (and it also contributes to fires). Beginning in 2012, California entered a so-called five-year drought period, although the state experienced its longest drought period, 376 weeks, from December 2011 to March 2019. Other states were also hit hard in those years (Oregon, Nevada, Texas and Arizona). California also experienced the most severe drought conditions of any affected state in 2015, and by 2016 more than 100 million trees had died due to water shortages.


The southwestern part of the country “wins” among those affected by too high air temperatures in a number of categories: for example, the number of heat waves, as well as the length of the heat season. And according to NOAA, Louisiana and Florida are pretty close to taking the top spot in this regard. Globally, 2019 was the second hottest year on record (after 2016). And while a wide variety of states have hit record heat levels this year, perhaps one of the most alarming was the heat wave in Alaska, which "returned on days of record high average temperatures across the state," the New York Times writes. This is an alarming trend, because warming in the northern part of the world means the sea ice is melting, with many negative consequences for the planet.

Winter storms

Since 2015, the country's northeast has experienced the most costly winter storms every year (together they cost nearly $ 7 billion), although choosing the most affected state is a daunting task. However, one of the leaders is Massachusetts, which was hit hard in 2015 by massive and devastating snowfall in February, followed by a blizzard in 2016 and two massive snowstorms in 2018.

On the subject: How to insure home and property from floods in the US


The United States experiences some of the most violent tornadoes of any country in the world, and the country even has a region named only after stormy whirlwinds: Tornado Alley, which is generally thought to be composed of parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and South Dakota. In terms of numbers, Texas tends to collect the most tornadoes per year - according to some estimates, there were 2019 in 140. But in the same year, two other states hit record numbers: Oklahoma with 149 tornadoes and four deaths and Mississippi with 115 tornadoes. reports the Weather Channel.

Volcanic eruptions

While volcanic eruptions have nothing to do with climate change, it is worth mentioning. There are 169 volcanoes in the US that the American Institute of Geosciences considers "active", most of which are located in Alaska and do not pose a huge threat to the population. But the Pacific Northwest also has its own volcanoes, including Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount Shasta. Mount St. Helens, which last erupted in 2008, was also the site of the deadliest eruption in US history in 1980, when 57 people died, and that's reason enough to rank Washington as the deadliest state by that measure. But the most potentially devastating threat may come from Kilauea, which will pass the baton to the state of Hawaii. The US Geological Survey ranks Kilauea as number one in the "very high threat" category (Mount St. Helens is number two) according to National Geographic, due in part to the large lava flows it erupted from May to August 2018.

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