As the United States enters its peak severe weather season, residents of some states are more likely to experience financial hardship due to a disaster than others. We found that 10 states are left paying for more than 80% of the cost of natural disasters in the United States, with damage particularly concentrated along the Gulf Coast.
This year is also on pace to be the year with the most federally declared disasters in history. At the end of April, 2020 was already ranked No. 2, with peak hurricane and wildfire season yet to come.
1. The financial impact of natural disasters hits hardest in Texas, where annual costs have averaged $1,478 per household over the last five years.
2. Disaster costs are highly concentrated in 10 states, which have footed the bill for 80% of total disaster costs since 2014.
3. Hurricanes and flooding continue to be key causes, and wildfires made a bigger impact over the last five years than during the previous period.
4. As a result of the coronavirus, 2020 is on pace to be the most disaster-heavy year ever. As of June 1, FEMA has declared more disasters this year than any other except 2011.
Top 10 states at risk for natural disasters
- $1,476 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $14.1 billion statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
With a lengthy Gulf Coast shoreline, Texas has the highest risk of natural disaster. Over the last five years, the state has sustained an average of $14.1 billion in disaster damage, amounting to a typical expense of $1,476 per household every year. 2017 alone accounted for a staggering $63.4 billion in damage, primarily due to Hurricane Harvey. Texas also had the most deaths over this five-year period; 321 people died in weather-related disasters.
- $1,078 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $1.87 billion statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
Like Texas, Louisiana's position near the Gulf of Mexico makes it very susceptible to hurricanes and severe rainstorms. Between 2014 and 2018, disaster damage has cost households $1,078 on average per year. Major cities New Orleans and Baton Rouge are both located along the Mississippi River delta, making them common targets of flooding.
- $451 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $3.44 billion statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
Florida has the longest coastline of any state in the continental U.S., so it's no surprise it’s among the most vulnerable to severe storms. The average cost of disasters over the last five year has been $451 per year for every household. Hurricane Michael made 2018 an especially costly year, with $9.9 billion in damage across the state.
- $319 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $4.14 billion statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
California residents incur $4.14 billion in property damage every year, which breaks down to about $319 per household. California has the most major disasters when not counting hurricanes and rainstorms. Wildfires contributed the most damage in California — especially in 2018, when the Camp and Woolsey fires occurred.
California has also had the greatest number of FEMA-declared disasters of any state: an average of 16.4 disasters per year between 2014 and 2018.
- $220 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $464 million statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
Colorado households incur $220 in property damage each year, on average, which works out to $464 million statewide. Colorado's costliest year was 2017, mostly due to the largest hailstorm in state history. On May 8, baseball-sized hail in the West Denver area during the evening commute resulted in $2.3 billion in home and automobile damage.
Hail damage is covered under most homeowners insurance policies, as well as comprehensive coverage for cars.
6. North Carolina
- $153 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $600 million statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
The Tar Heel State has a lengthy Atlantic coastline, which is hit by an average of 2.4 hurricanes and tropical storms each year. That's led to $600 million of damage statewide per year, though Hurricane Florence contributed to $2 billion of damage statewide in 2018. There are also about 96 fatalities per year in North Carolina due to major disasters.
- $150 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $586 million statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
Unlike most states on our list, Michigan isn't along the ocean — nor is it a Southern state. Nevertheless, it experiences an average of $586 million in disaster damage each year, largely due to rainstorms, flooding and tornadoes. 2014 was a particularly costly year, as storms caused $1.9 billion in property damage. Thankfully, fatalities have been relatively few, with just 16 deaths due to disasters between 2014 and 2018.
8. New Mexico
- $119 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $93 million statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
While New Mexico doesn't experience coastal storms like its neighbor Texas, it's nevertheless the site of smaller-yet-costly natural disasters, such as flooding and wildfires — including the Ghost Ranch Flood in 2015. New Mexico households incur an average of $119 in property damage per year, totalling $93 million statewide.
- $115 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $87 million statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
Located near the center of Tornado Alley, Nebraska incurs an average of $87 million in property damage each year — working out to about $115 per household. The National Weather Service says about 53 tornadoes pass through Nebraska each year. These natural disasters can cause severe wind, rain and hail damage.
- $112 projected annual property damage cost per household
- $415 million statewide annual property damage due to natural disasters
Despite its location next to Florida along the Atlantic coast, Georgia has experienced relatively little damage on a per-household basis over the past five years. The typical annual cost of disaster damage for a Georgia household is just $112 annually. However, 2017 was a costly year for this state. Tropical Storm Irma caused $1.5 billion in damage throughout Georgia alone.
2020 is on track to have the most FEMA disasters ever
With just five months completed, 2020 is on track to be the year with the most official FEMA-recognized (Federal Emergency Management Agency) disasters in history. Declaring a disaster allows a state to receive additional federal aid in order to recover, and President Trump has allowed every state, territory and Native American nation to receive coronavirus-related aid.
While most disasters address by FEMA relate to natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, FEMA designates them as "[a]n occurrence of a natural catastrophe, technological accident, or human-caused event that has resulted in severe property damage, deaths, and/or multiple injuries."
There have been 180 disasters declared through the end of May, with 154 of those pertaining to the coronavirus. While the full cost of the coronavirus will be impossible to determine until the virus is under control, it will no doubt be among the costliest disasters in U.S. history. With a $2.2 trillion price tag, the CARES Act alone is one of the costliest expenses ever paid by the federal government.
Furthermore, peak disaster season is yet to come. Between 1998 and 2019, the summer months of June, July and August have accounted for 51% of the total number of disasters declared, mostly consisting of hurricanes and rainstorms.
What you can do to protect yourself and your property from natural disasters
While it's impossible to predict exactly when a natural disaster will strike, the good news is that it's usually easy to protect yourself from one.
No matter what type of disaster you're facing, the first step is purchasing adequate homeowners insurance coverage. You should review your homeowners insurance policy at least every two years and when you move, grow your family, get a pet or renovate your home. Double-check you have enough dwelling and property coverage to fully protect everything you own, and consider replacement-cost coverage, if you can afford it.
Next, understand whether your home is at risk for any major disasters. You probably already know if your neighborhood is susceptible to floods, coastal storms, wind or earthquakes, but it doesn't hurt to confirm. Unfortunately, many disaster types are not covered under regular insurance. Flooding, earthquakes and volcanoes almost never are, and depending on where you live, wind and wildfire damage might not be, either.
Flooding in particular is important to consider, as flood maps are updated periodically and your home may be in more danger now than when you bought it. If you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), you might be required to have flood insurance as a term of your mortgage.
National rankings of states most at risk for major disasters
We found that states at risk for natural disasters tend to be concentrated near the Gulf of Mexico, an area subjected to many serious storms over the last five years. Surprisingly, many of the states that experienced the least damage are along the Northeastern corridor. Although the area was hit hard in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, the past several years have been comparatively calm.
Average number of FEMA disasters (2014–2018)
Cost per household annually
To determine the cost and frequency of natural disasters, we analyzed the National Weather Service's annual nationwide reports of disaster damage by state between 2014 and 2018, the latest year for which data is available. We cross-referenced this with U.S. Census population data to determine costs by household. We also compiled FEMA disaster declarations through May 2020 to understand where disasters are occurring most frequently.