The National Centers for Environmental Information found that disasters have cost the United States over $1.5 trillion since 1980. NCEI, the nation’s scorekeeper in terms of addressing severe weather and climate events in their historical perspective, assessed weather and climate disasters and their economic and societal impacts.
NCEI’s U.S. billion-dollar disaster analysis seeks to bring the best public and private disaster loss data together in a systematic approach. They maintain a consistent record of weather and climate disasters with costs equaling or exceeding $1 billion in damages (adjusting for inflation) using high-quality data sources and peer-reviewed methods. This enables NCEI to provide historical context to these events when they occur while quantifying their total, direct costs.
NCEI’s data and information are used to examine past events and gauge future risk. The National Hurricane Center, the reinsurance industry, and catastrophe modelers incorporate such information into their assessments, to contextualize risk and loss potential for communities across the nation.
NCEI currently monitors and assesses the costs and impacts of:
- Inland floods
- Severe local storms
- Crop freeze events
- Winter storms
Tropical cyclones are the most costly of the weather and climate disasters. Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained at least 219 weather and climate disasters where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including Consumer Price Index adjustment to 2017). The total cost of these 219 events exceeds $1.5 trillion.
Including 2017’s hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, 38 tropical cyclones impacting the U.S. have caused at least $850.5 billion in total damages—with an average of $22.4 billion per event. Accounting for just under a fifth (17.4 percent) of the total number of events, tropical cyclones have caused over half (55.3 percent) of the total damages attributed to billion-dollar weather and climate disasters since 1980.
Following tropical cyclones, the most costly event types are:
- Drought, with an average cost of $9.5 billion per event
- Flooding, with an average cost of $4.3 billion per event
- Wildfires, with an average cost of $3.6 billion per event
- Freezes, with an average cost of $3.5 billion per event
- Winter storms, with an average cost of $3.1 billion per event
- Severe storms, with an average cost of $2.3 billion per event
For more information on the distribution of damage from these billion-dollar disaster events, see their summary statistics.