From hurricanes to earthquakes to wildfires, several states have experienced the devastating impact of natural disasters — and taxpayers are now paying for it. In fact, extreme weather disasters cost American taxpayers more than $67 billion from 2000 to 2015, according to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress.
Recent natural disasters — including Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and the wildfires in Northern California — left millions of residents in need of disaster assistance and cities in dire need of repair. Here’s a closer look at how much natural disasters cost American taxpayers.
Cost of Hurricane Disasters
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most devastating in U.S. history with five hurricanes and two tropical storms making landfall in the United States. And some states, like Florida, required billions of dollars in aid.
For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided $2.7 billion in aid between 2005 and 2015 to Florida alone, according to a report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Experts predict that rising sea levels in the Southeast will trigger even more hurricanes and violent storms as climate change takes its toll on planet Earth, making the state of Florida more vulnerable to natural disasters as time goes by.
Other costly hurricanes to hit the U.S. in recent years include:
- Hurricane Harvey: Accuweather estimates Harvey to be the costliest weather disaster in the United States to date. Costs are expected to be approximately $190 billion as of 2017.
- Hurricane Matthew: Hurricane Matthew, which barreled along the Southeast coast in October 2016, caused widespread damage along the coast of Florida all the way to North Carolina. Eastern North Carolina experienced the most impact as 100,000 homes, businesses and other structures sustained damage. The total cost of Matthew’s visit was approximately $10.4 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
- Hurricane Wilma: FEMA responded to 17 extreme weather events in Florida between 2005 and 2015, with Hurricane Wilma requiring $1.8 billion in FEMA aid alone.
Cost of Earthquake Disaster Recovery
Earthquakes cost the U.S. a pretty penny, as well. But the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California was the costliest earthquake in U.S. history with an estimated $44 billion in property damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
More recent earthquakes that struck Napa, Vallejo, Solano, Sonoma and American Canyon in 2014 cost an estimated $700 million, while the earthquakes of April 2010 in California and Arizona cost $150 million.
The recent earthquakes in Mexico could cost upward of $2 billion. And, the magnitude of damage to cultural sites, homes and businesses could prompt many Americans to donate money to assist with reconstruction and repairs.
For example, Facebook donated $1 million to help victims of the earthquake in Mexico, and billionaire Carlos Slim donated $110 million for disaster recovery efforts. Celebrities Shawn Mendes and Salma Hayek donated $100,000 each and also kicked off crowdfunding efforts to raise more.
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Climate change is also to blame for many of 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 scientists and researchers at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
The estimated costs of recent flooding across the U.S. include:
- Missouri and Arkansas, April and May 2017: $1.7 billion
- California, February 2017: $1.5 billion
- Houston, April 2016: $2.8 billion
Torrential rains in Louisiana in August 2016 caused catastrophic inland flash flooding, and more than a half-dozen rivers in southeast Louisiana had record river flooding. The total economic losses of these floods were $10 billion to $15 billion, according to the Global Catastrophe Recap report by Aon Benfield of Impact Forecasting.
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Because the state couldn’t afford to cover disaster recovery efforts on its own, Gov. John Bel Edwards had to request a $2 billion bailout package, and the federal government pledged to cover 90 percent of FEMA costs — states usually pay back 25 percent of FEMA costs — funds that would likely come from taxpayers.
Cost of Tornadoes
High winds and tornadoes that made their way across Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois in the summer of 2017 caused extensive destruction, amounting to $1.2 billion in economic costs, according to NOAA.
The upper Midwest states also endured severe hailstorms in 2017 that left many buildings and vehicles damaged. The cost of that hail and wind damage came to $2.5 billion. Meanwhile, the tornado outbreak and wind damage that affected Midwestern states in March 2017, leaving more than 1 million customers in Michigan alone without power, cost an estimated $2.1 billion.
To protect your assets and finances from natural disasters like tornadoes, many experts recommend creating a national emergency fund and kit.
Cost of Wildfires
Wildfires that scorched Northwestern states in the summer and fall of 2017 have been exacerbated by the extreme drought conditions plaguing the West Coast, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
Montana and California experienced some of the most severe events with damage to hundreds of homes and millions of acres of land. According to the NOAA, the total damage through September 2017 was an estimated $2 billion. The economic cost of the fatal October 2017 wildfires in Northern California is predicted to be at least $85 billion, the most expensive wildfire in U.S. history.
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 is a significant increase from 1995, when fighting fires made up 16 percent of the budget. And costs continue to escalate.
The 10 largest fires cost more than $320 million to fight in 2014, and the cost of fire suppression is expected to reach nearly $1.8 billion by 2025, when $2 of every $3 given to the Forest Service by Congress will be spent on fire programs.
Cost of Droughts
Droughts that persist for more than a few years can be especially damaging to crops and cause the deaths of trees that have been growing in forests for decades.
More than 100 million trees perished and then became safety hazards during the drought in California in 2016, according to NOAA. Stressed water supplies in the Northeast and Southeast from extreme droughts there had a significant impact on the agricultural industry.
The total economic cost of destruction from 2016 droughts was approximately $3.6 billion.