Zooming around with Zoe: A look back on 2020’s billion-dollar disasters


(WNCT photo)

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — With severe weather season in full swing, and hurricane season just around the corner, let’s look back on last year’s billion-dollar disasters.

Since records began in 1980, the U.S. has sustained $285 billion in weather and climate disasters.
In 2020, there were 22 weather events with losses of over $1 billion dollars, shattering the previous record of 16 back in 2011 and 2017.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, since 1980, the average number of billion-dollar disasters is about seven events per year. But, both the number and cost of disasters are increasing, up to about 15% per year over the last five years.

One reason for this is an increase in population and material wealth, especially because much of the growth has taken place in vulnerable areas like coasts and river floodplains. Last year, we saw a record number of hurricanes with 7 of the 12 landfalling storms becoming billion-dollar disasters.

Hurricane Laura created the most destruction, costing $19 billion and killing 42 people. The wildfires in the west were even more fatal, with 46 lives lost, but only costing $16.5 billion in damages. The derecho that swept through the midwest last August was the third costliest event of the year, with $11 billion of destruction, and four deaths.

Out of all the disasters, on average, hurricanes have caused the most damage, killed the most people and have the highest event cost. On the other hand, severe storms have the highest number of billion-dollar disaster events but the lowest average cost.

We need to remain extra vigilant as severe weather season and hurricane season ramp up in the coming months. It’s important to learn from past events in order to better prepare for the future.

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