Weather-Caused Disasters Remain the Most Destructive

Terrorist attacks and active shooter events garner extensive media attention, but in terms of lives lost, property damage, and overall social disruption, weather-related disasters dwarf man-made incidents.

With World Meteorological Day quickly approaching (March 23), we thought it was an opportune time to provide some context for weather-related disasters:

  • As was noted extensively in recent media reports, 2017 tallied 16 weather-related natural disasters of $1 billion or more in damages. The current cost estimate for those 16 events sits at $306 billion, the most expensive year on record.
  • Flooding consistently tops the list for the most costly and damaging disaster
    • Most of the $125 billion in damages caused by Hurricane Harvey stemmed from flooding of the Houston metropolitan area
    • Flooding is most often caused by more mundane conditions – heavy rains and snowmelt
  • Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma caused 251 fatalities
  • Western wildfires cost another 54 lives and $18 billion in damages (also a new annual record)
  • A hailstorm alone caused $3.4 billion in damages in Colorado and Oklahoma in May 2017

The list can go on – drought, tornadoes, landslides, severe storms all added to the catalog of weather-related disasters.

A few other notable characteristics and differences between weather and human-caused disasters:

  • Weather disasters affect far wider areas than man-made or facility-specific emergencies, such as building fires, terrorism, or mass shootings
  • They disrupt entire communities for months or longer
  • They require vastly more complex responses, which local communities cannot mount on their own

Preparing for weather-related disasters requires a more generalized approach, since impacts will vary dramatically based on the cause and local conditions. No two storms are the same. However, the upside of this is that organizations that take a broad-based, all-hazards approach to emergency response planning and that focus on core capabilities are well positioned to respond effectively to a wide range of disasters.