Hurricane Florence has strengthened to a Category 4 storm as it approaches the Carolina coast. The hurricane could cause as much as $170 billion in damage overall, making it the most expensive storm to hit the U.S., as FEMA prepares to provide disaster relief.
From hurricanes and flooding to earthquakes and wildfires, several states have experienced the devastating impact of natural disasters in recent years — and Americans are now paying for it. In fact, extreme weather disasters cost taxpayers about $675 billion between 2011 and 2017, according to the Center for American Progress. Natural disasters — including Hurricane Harvey and the wildfires in California — have left thousands of residents in need of disaster aid as well as cities in need of significant repairs.
Click through to see why extreme weather is one of the major reasons Americans tap into their emergency funds.
The Cost of Hurricanes
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most devastating in U.S. history with four major hurricanes making landfall in the United States. Adjusted for inflation, Hurricane Katrina — which struck the Gulf Coast 13 years ago this month — cost $165 billion in damages and still holds the record for the most expensive climate disaster, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information.
Other costly hurricanes to hit the U.S. in recent years include:
- Hurricane Harvey: The second-most costly climate disaster to affect the U.S., Harvey unleashed a historic amount of rainfall that caused extreme flooding in Texas, which in turn destroyed more than 200,000 businesses and homes and displaced over 30,000 people. The August 2017 hurricane cost approximately $127.5 billion in damages.
- Hurricane Matthew: Hurricane Matthew, which barreled along the Southeast coast in October 2016, caused widespread damage from Florida all the way to North Carolina. Eastern North Carolina experienced the greatest impact as 100,000 businesses, homes and other structures sustained damage. The total cost of Matthew’s visit was approximately $10.6 billion.
- Hurricane Sandy: This October 2012 hurricane caused widespread damage across multiple Northeastern states, particularly New York and New Jersey, and cost $72.2 billion in damages. Sandy interrupted critical water and electrical services in metropolitan centers and forced the New York Stock Exchange to halt operations for two consecutive business days — something that hadn’t occurred since 1888.
Research published in the journal “Earth’s Future” shows that Atlantic hurricanes will likely become bigger, longer-lasting and more intense due to the effects of climate change. See how much climate change will cost in each state.
The Cost of Earthquakes
Earthquakes cost the U.S. a pretty penny, as well. The 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California was the costliest earthquake in U.S. history with an estimated $44 billion in damages when adjusted for inflation, according to the Insurance Information Institute. More recent California earthquakes that struck Napa, Vallejo, Solano, Sonoma and American Canyon in 2014 cost about $700 million, and the 2017 earthquakes in Mexico cost approximately $6 billion.
The magnitude of damage to cultural sites, homes and businesses has prompted many Americans to volunteer and donate money to disaster relief. For example, Facebook donated $1 million to the Red Cross to help victims of the earthquake in Mexico.
The Cost of Floods
Climate change has also contributed to the heavy rains and extreme flooding that several states — including Texas and Louisiana — have experienced in recent years. While some regions across the country are more prone to heavy rains and flooding, climate change only exacerbates the problem, according to researchers at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Remember: flooding isn’t typically covered in a home insurance policy, so make sure you have the right coverage.
The costs of recent flooding across the U.S., sourced from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, include:
- Missouri and Arkansas, May 2017: $1.7 billion
- California, February 2017: $1.6 billion
- Houston, April 2016: $2.8 billion
Historic flooding in Louisiana in August 2016 destroyed or damaged 100,000 vehicles, 50,000 homes and 20,000 businesses. Over 30,000 people had to be rescued from the catastrophic floodwaters. The total economic losses of these floods were $10.6 billion.
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The Cost of Tornadoes
High winds and tornadoes that made their way across Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois in June 2017 caused widespread destruction, amounting to $1.5 billion in economic costs, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Tornado outbreaks and wind damage that affected Midwestern states in March 2017 left nearly 1 million residents in Michigan without power and cost an estimated $2.3 billion.
Minnesota and the upper Midwest also endured severe hailstorms in summer 2017 that left many buildings and vehicles damaged. The cost of that hail and wind damage came to $2.4 billion.
To protect your assets from natural disasters like tornadoes, many experts recommend creating and saving for an emergency fund.
The Cost of Wildfires
According to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 50 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget is now dedicated to wildfire management. This figure marks a significant increase from 1995 when fighting fires made up 16 percent of the budget. By the time 2025 rolls around, $2 of every $3 given to the U.S. Forest Service by Congress will be spent on fire programs.
Large, destructive fires burning across the West are exacerbated by the dry and warm climate — ideal wildfire conditions. The Carr fire currently scorching California has destroyed over 1,000 homes and devastated more than 164,000 acres. It’s the sixth-most damaging fire on record in California in terms of property loss, according to the NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.
The Cost of Droughts
Droughts that persist for more than a few years can be especially damaging to agriculture and cause the deaths of trees that have been growing in forests for decades. More than 100 million trees died and then became safety hazards during the five-year drought in California in 2016, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Stressed water supplies in the Northeast and Southeast from extreme droughts also had a significant impact on the agricultural industry.
The total economic cost of the 2016 droughts was approximately $3.7 billion.
Click through to find out exactly how much you should have saved in an emergency fund.
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Grace Lin contributed to the reporting of this article.