America is finally feeling the thaw after being stuck in the grip of a polar vortex. The cold snap brought with it historically low weather temperatures, particularly in the Midwest, where wind chills dipped more than 50 degrees below zero.
The event’s damage cannot be understated. The weather event caused at least nine confirmed deaths, with that number likely to rise. Furthermore, many services Americans rely on drew to a halt. Auto factories closed, several thousand flights were canceled and even the U.S. Postal Service, which is supposed to deliver mail in spite of sleet, hail and snow, paused services across at least 10 states due to harsh weather conditions.
Extreme weather events like this cost people in terms of both resources and accessibility to services. They can also cost Americans in terms of goods destroyed and can be major reasons Americans tap into their emergency funds.
The Cost of Extreme Cold
The California freeze of 1990 holds the official title for the costliest freeze between 1980 and 2018. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the seven-day event cost taxpayers an estimated $6.7 billion, adjusted for inflation for 2018 costs. The central and southern San Joaquin valleys experienced a disastrous freeze that ruined citrus, avocado trees and other produce throughout the area. On the other hand, there were no deaths on record.
The 2019 polar vortex might officially beat that figure. AccuWeather estimates the brutal cold snap will cost the U.S. as much as a staggering $14 billion, more than twice the cost of the 1990 California freeze. Although much of that could be recouped, up to $5 billion will likely be permanently lost.
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 over 13 years ago — cost $165 billion in damages and still holds the record for the most expensive climate disaster, according to NOAA.
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. Keep reading to 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. Although 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.
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 the summer of 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 U.S. 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 that scorched California in 2018 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 as of July 2018, according to the NOAA National 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 between 2010 and 2016 due in part to the five-year drought in California, the Los Angeles Times reported. 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 in case you need it in a weather emergency.
More on the Economy
- 10 Effects of Inflation — and How to Protect Your Money Now
- Ways 9/11 Impacted the US Economy
- Richest and Poorest Area Codes in the US
- Watch: Best and Worst States for the Middle Class
We make money easy. Get weekly email updates, including expert advice to help you Live Richer™.