2018: Year in Review
Of the 14 billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2018, there were two tropical cyclones (Hurricanes Florence and Michael), one western wildfire disaster comprised of several fire complexes, eight severe convective storms (hail, tornado, or damaging wind), one large drought episode, and two winter storms. In total, these events claimed at least 247 lives and had losses estimated at $91 billion. Hurricanes Michael and Florence, and the western wildfires, accounted for about $73 billion of that.
All told, 2018 saw the fourth highest total number of weather events in the U.S., behind only 2017, 2011, and 2016, and the fourth highest costs, behind 2017, 2005, and 2012.
Hurricane Florence: Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on September 14, 2018 and became one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes to ever impact the Carolinas. It caused at least 51 deaths and record flooding.
Hurricane Michael: Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida on October 10, 2018, with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. It was the most intense hurricane on record to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle, and caused at least 45 deaths—as well as widespread devastation—across the Panhandle, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
Western Wildfires: Two wildfires impacted California in early November 2018; the Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres, caused at least 88 fatalities, and destroyed more than 18,000 structures in Northern California. It was the most destructive and deadliest wildfire on record in California, and the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. since 1918. In Southern California, the Woolsey Fire destroyed more than 1,500 structures and killed at least three people in and around Malibu.
2017: Highest Costs Ever
The cumulative costs of the 16 separate billion-dollar weather events in the U.S. in 2017 was $306.2 billion, breaking the previous cost record of $214.8 billion (2005). It is estimated that Hurricane Harvey alone had total costs of $125 billion—second only to Hurricane Katrina in the period of record, which had an approximate cost of $161 billion.
Harvey, Irma, and Maria: Making History
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was among the top seven most intense ever recorded. Record-breaking statistics, in addition to costs, include the following:
Hurricane Harvey: Harvey was the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event ever recorded in U.S. history, both in scope and peak rainfall amounts. The highest storm total rainfall report from Harvey was 60.58 inches. Prior to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Harvey became the deadliest U.S. hurricane in terms of direct deaths since Sandy (2012) and the deadliest hurricane to hit Texas since 1919. It was the first category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Texas since 1961, and the first category 4 to make landfall in the U.S. since 2004. Harvey lasted 117 hours, beating the previous record for duration of Hurricane Fern in 1971.
Hurricane Irma: With maximum winds of 185 miles per hour, Irma became the strongest storm on record to exist in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. It sustained those maximum winds speeds for 37 hours and spent three consecutive days as a category 5 hurricane—making it the longest of any cyclone in the world since 1932 to maintain that intensity. The occurrences of Harvey and Irma—making landfall within two weeks of each other—were the first time in recorded history that two category 4 or higher hurricanes struck the U.S. mainland in the same year.
Hurricane Maria: Maria was the first category 5 hurricane ever to make landfall in Dominica, and the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. It was the deadliest of 2017’s three major storm, with over 2,900 fatalities.
Hurricane Maria knocked down 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s utility poles and all transmission lines, resulting in the loss of power to essentially all of the island’s 3.4 million residents. Practically all cell phone service was lost and municipal water supplies were knocked out. At of the end of 2017, nearly half of Puerto Rico’s residents were still without power, and by the end of January 2018, electricity had been restored to about 65 percent of the island.
Eight in a Row
2018 marked the eighth consecutive year with eight or more billion-dollar disasters, exceeding the long-term average of 6.2 per year.
Of the 246 (as of April 2019) weather disasters since 1980, tropical cyclones have caused the most damage: $927.5 billion total, with an average cost of almost $22 billion per event.
Over a dozen states were impacted by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Sandy caused $18.75 billion in insured property losses, excluding flood insurance claims. Estimates of insured losses for Hurricane Matthew (2016) range from $1.5 billion to $7 billion in the U.S.