Just a few months ago, experts pointed to 2016 as a record-breaking year for natural disasters and corresponding economic damages. But a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that 2017 blew all other years out of the water — literally. Fifteen major natural disasters ranging from floods and wildfires to deep freezes and tornadoes exceeded $1 billion in weather-related costs and damages. This includes a record three Category 4+ hurricane landfalls.
NOAA calculated cost estimates to include both insured and uninsured losses for the major events that occurred throughout 2017. The numbers tell an alarming tale showing how just one tornado or deep freeze can impact the economy by millions. Ranked from terrible to downright unimaginable, here are the 15 most expensive — and most deadly — natural disasters of 2017. How many of these do you remember?
15. Southeast freeze in March 2017
- Total estimated cost: $1 billion
- Death toll: 0 deaths
A severe freeze damaged fruit crops across several southeastern states from Virginia to the Carolinas, and Alabama. Unseasonable warm temps just weeks earlier caused crops to bloom early. But the freezing temps meant Georgia and South Carolina took the brunt of the hit with widespread impact on peaches, blueberries, strawberries and apples. NOAA reports agricultural woes contributed to a sizeable chunk of the $1 billion in damages.
Next: This weather event broke records from the 1950’s.
14. Southern tornado outbreak and severe storms in January 2017
- Total estimated cost: $1.1 billion
- Death toll: 24 deaths
January 2017 brought with it an onslaught of 79 confirmed tornadoes and high wind damage across many southern states. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas all reported deadly tornado outbreaks. The NOAA report notes this winter disaster was the third-highest outbreak of tornadoes in a winter month since 1950. It resulted in about $1.1 billion in losses and 24 deaths.
Next: Back-to-back storms were costly for this region.
13. Midwest hail, tornadoes, and high winds in June 2017
- Total estimated cost: $3 billion
- Death toll: 0 deaths
The Midwest region is no stranger to severe weather, high winds, or tornadoes. But June 2017 brought large hail, severe winds, and over 12 tornadoes to Nebraska, Illinois, and Iowa even locals weren’t prepared for. Then, residents were exposed to a second round of severe weather only a few days later. This time, the impact affected states from Wyoming to Kansas to Virginia. Storm damage tore apart homes, business, and crops resulting in an estimated $3 billion in total damages. Luckily, no deaths were recorded.
Next: Deadly flooding in California
12. California flooding in February 2017
- Total estimated cost: $1.5 billion
- Death toll: 5 deaths
Nearly six inches of heavy rainfall across northern and central California created substantial property and infrastructure damage that totaled $1.5 billion in 2017. Threat to the Oroville Dam Spillway spurred a multi-day evacuation of 188,000 residents. An overflowed creek caused flood damage to San Jose and forced thousands more to evacuate. Downpours combined with the effects of earlier wildfires made the threat of mudslides, landslides, and erosions even more plausible. Submerged vehicles and other dangers caused five deaths.
Next: The Midwest region definitely remembers this storm.
11. Missouri and Arkansas flooding and severe weather in May 2017
- Total estimated cost: $1.7 billion
- Death toll: 20 deaths
Up to 15 inches of rain is bound to do some damage. Unfortunately, May 2017 brought historic levels of flooding to the Midwest as levees were breeched and towns were turned into riverside swamps. Add countless severe storms to the mix and it’s easy to infer what caused such widespread damage to homes, businesses, infrastructure, and agriculture. When all is said and done, this natural disaster caused 20 deaths and left $1.7 billion worth of estimated damage in its wake.
Next: More deadly tornadoes
10. Another southern and central tornado outbreak in March 2017
- Total estimated cost: $1.8 billion
- Death toll: 6 deaths
The second-largest tornado outbreak to occur in 2017 produced over 70 tornadoes in the central and southern states. Significant hail and wind damage was most noticeable in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois. Six deaths and $1.8 billion in estimated damage as a result of this two-day storm made it the 9th most expensive natural disaster of 2017.
Next: The Midwest just couldn’t catch a break in 2017
9. A second midwest tornado outbreak in March 2017
- Total estimated cost: $2.1 billion
- Death toll: 2 deaths
Illinois and other nearby Midwestern states saw their fair share of tornadoes in 2017. Just a few days after more than 70 cyclones ripped through the area, additional storms touched down across Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri. Effects were felt all the way to Michigan and New York, as nearly 1 million people lost power due to high sustained winds. The four-day power loss and widespread damage amounted to $2.1 billion in expenses and caused two deaths.
Next: Hail for the record books
8. Minnesota hail storm in June 2017
- Total estimated cost: $2.4 billion
- Death toll: 0 deaths
Countless bouts of severe weather plagued the Midwest, but none were more costly than the hail storm that tore through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other parts of the upper Midwest in June 2017. Hail the size of hen eggs damaged building and vehicles in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. Though no deaths were reported, NOAA says this summer storm costs residents nearly $2.4 in estimated damages.
Next: The economic effects of a drought
7. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana drought, spring through fall 2017
- Total estimated cost: $2.5 billion
- Death toll: 0 deaths
Ranchers and cattle farmers said 2017 brought some of the “worst conditions” they ever saw in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Long-term droughts in the area turned wheat crops into dust and the lack of feed forced ranchers to sell off livestock. As we’ll see later, the threat of wildfires also increased with this summertime drought.
Next: Another blow to the Southeast
6. Southeast severe weather in March 2017
- Total estimated cost: $2.7 billion
- Death toll: 0
Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee all fell victim to 6 or more severe weather events in 2016, according to American Progress. NOAA data for 2017 suggested more of the same for the South and Southeast regions. Rough storms blew through Dallas, Texas and countless other states in March yet again, bringing with it tornadoes, large hail, and high winds. And they weren’t your average prairie storms either. These bad boys amassed nearly $2.7 billion in estimated damages.
Next: Baseball-sized hail caused billions in damages.
5. Colorado hail storm in May 2017
- Total estimated cost: $3.4 billion
- Death toll: 0 deaths
By now we know that hail storms and wind damage impacted many states multiple times in 2017. But hail the size of baseballs caught Denver, Colorado residents by surprise in May. Of course, windshields, car roofs, and windows don’t stand a chance in this kind of weather. NOAA data shows this was the most expensive hail storms in Colorado history, with insured losses exceeding $2.2 billion alone. Other costly damages were reported in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
Next: Prior drought conditions sparked record-breaking disasters in the West.
4. Western wildfires and California firestorm, summer through fall 2017
- Total estimated cost: $18 billion
- Death toll: 54 deaths
A string of deadly and ruthless fires in the west generated $18 billion in losses and 54 deaths. The historic California firestorm damaged or destroyed over 15,000 homes, businesses, and other structures in October, making it the most expensive wildfire event on record. Extreme wildfire conditions in December also burned hundreds of homes in Los Angeles. Over 9.8 million acres were burned across numerous Northwestern states, including more than 1 million fertile acres in Montana. The 10-year annual average was 6.5 million acres burned prior to this event.
Next: Words like “epic” and “historic” are used to describe this costly event.
3. Hurricane Irma in September 2017
- Total estimated cost: $50 billion
- Death toll: 97 deaths
Florida is still recovering from the category 4 hurricane that made landfall on its coast in September. The same storm that toppled the Virgin Islands left Jacksonville completely underwater. NOAA says 25% of buildings were destroyed and 65% were heavily damaged in the Florida Keys thanks to Hurricane Irma. Fifty billion dollars in damages almost seems reasonable when considering this storm maintained maximum sustained winds of 185 mph for 37 hours and caused historic levels of storm surge in Charleston, South Carolina. Hurricane Irma claimed the lives of 97 people and was the third costliest event of 2017.
Next: A hurricane worse than Irma hit just days later
2. Hurricane Maria in September 2017
- Total estimated cost: $90 billion
- Death toll: 65 deaths
Hurricane Maria terrorized Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands just days after Irma ripped through the same towns. Category 4 winds caused widespread devastation to Puerto Rico’s transportation, agriculture, communication, and energy infrastructure while 37 inches of rainfall triggered tragic mudslides and flooding. Though the report lists the estimated damage at $90 billion, it’s likely the number will climb even higher since Maria all but halted commerce and tourism to the region. It also pummeled the entire electric grid, leading to the largest blackout in US history.
Next: The most expensive natural disaster of 2017 broke all kinds of records.
1. Hurricane Harvey in August 2017
- Total estimated cost: $125 billion
- Death toll: 89 deaths
Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 50 inches of rain onto some of Texas’ most populated cities. Houston took the brunt of the hit, as they experienced historic flooding. NOAA reports more than 30 inches of rainfall fell on 6.9 million people, while 1.25 million experienced over 45 inches and 11,000 had over 50 inches in just seven days. The category 4 hurricane displaced over 30,000 people and damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes and businesses. Eighty-nine deaths and $125 billion in estimated damages makes this the most expensive natural disaster of 2017.
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