Billion-dollar natural disasters now a frequent occurrence

May 22, 2013

Billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. have tripled since the 1980s. 2011 broke records, with 14 separate events.

This week saw a tornado rip through central Oklahoma, killing at least 24 and injuring over 300. As the people of the Sooner State start to rebuild, we take a look at the natural disasters that are hitting us more frequently than in the past.

The annual number of billion-dollar disasters in the United States – earthquakes, floods, fires, hurricanes and more – has tripled since the 1980s, from two to about six per year. And 2011 was a barn-burner, with 14 separate $1 billion-plus weather events. That’s like buying 4,500 new homes at the median price for every major hurricane, tornado outburst, flood and drought.  Losses from U.S. natural disasters in 2011 topped $60 billion. The trend continued into 2012, with Hurricane Sandy flooding signifigant portions of the east coast. Preliminary data from the National Climatic Data Center shows a total of 11 disasters topping $1 billion last year, with an even higher level of monetary losses than 2011.

We’ve got an animated infographic for you that maps some of the trouble. Be sure to click around and see everything. And as you probably know, the debate over causes and culprits is as fierce as the climate itself. Dig into “What Do Others Say?” for a cross-section of ideas, then join the discussion below. What do you think accounts for this trend?