Billion Dollar Disasters

This indicator shows, by year, the number of weather and climate disasters causing more than one billion U.S. dollars in direct losses.
This indicator shows, by year, the number of weather and climate disasters causing more than one billion U.S. dollars in direct losses.

Costly weather and climate disasters have increased

The number of weather and climate-related disasters exceeding 1 billion dollars has increased in the United States since 1980.

The increase in Billion Dollar Disasters over time represents a combination of factors, including an increase the magnitude and frequency of some kinds of hazards (flooding, extreme heat, a driving component of drought and wildfire hazards) and changes in the value and placement of assets and property.

From 1980–2017, the U.S. experienced 227 weather and climate disasters with overall damage costs reaching or exceeding $1 billion, including Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustments, for each individual event. The cumulative costs for these 227 events exceed $1.5 trillion.
The bar graph shows the number of individual climate and weather events that caused more than one billion dollars of direct losses each year. The length of each bar corresponds to the annual number of events. These events are binned into seven hazard types, each represented by its own color.

About Billion Dollar Disasters

The Billion Dollar Disaster indicator provides insight into the frequency and the total estimated costs of major weather and climate events that occur in the United States. This indicator compiles the annual number of weather and climate-related disasters across seven event types. Events are included if they are estimated to cause more than one billion U.S. dollars in direct losses. The cost estimates of these events are adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and are based on costs documented in several Federal and private-sector databases.

In recent decades, the U.S. has experienced a rising number of weather and climate disasters that cause significant economic damages and societal losses. From 1980–2017, the annual average number of billion-dollar events was 6.0, including CPI adjustments. For the most recent 5 years (2013–2017), the annual average was 11.6 events.

The distribution of damage from U.S. Billion-dollar disaster events from 1980 to 2017 is dominated by tropical cyclone losses. Tropical cyclones have caused the most damage ($862 billion) and also have the highest average event cost ($21.6 billion per event). Hurricanes are responsible for slightly more than half (55.1%) of the total losses for all the U.S. billion-dollar disasters but represent less than one-fifth (17.6%) of all the billion-dollar events we have assessed since 1980.

The increase in population and material wealth over the last several decades are important factors for the increased damage potential. Climate change is also playing an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters. Most notably, the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding events are most acutely related to the influence of climate change (NCA3).
Why It's Important
  • In addition to direct threats to life and safety, major weather and climate disasters claim property, disrupt business, and affect daily life.
  • All U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have been impacted by at least one billion-dollar disaster since 1980.
  • Climate change is playing a role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters.