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Natural disaster hotspots: States most likely to be hit by the forces of nature

rain falling on house

Does the threat of hurricanes make you second-guess how relaxing retirement in Florida would actually be? You’re not wrong to be concerned, but the truth is you may experience a major natural disaster anywhere you go in the U.S.

Natural disasters are naturally occurring events that cause great economic damage and loss of life. Most of these disasters are weather-related, although virus outbreaks, toxic water, dam breaks and more are also considered natural disasters by the U.S. government.

Every single U.S. state has issued a national disaster declaration over the last five years — and that’s before COVID-19. To understand natural disasters better, and how they impact your wallet, we crunched numbers from FEMA and NOAA and analyzed our own proprietary data for this report.

We found that:

  • All 50 states have been impacted by a natural disaster in the last five years
  • 2020 has already had more disaster declarations than each of the previous five years and is on track to be the worst year on record due to COVID-19
  • You are most likely to experience a natural disaster living in California, Washington and Oklahoma
  • Over the last five years, Texas has spent the most on weather and climate disasters, totaling more than $100 billion

Natural disasters aren’t planned, and home insurance is complicated — but data helps us predict which areas are higher risk (and more expensive). Read on to discover natural disaster declarations and costs, what home insurers will and won’t cover, and which cities charge the least for coverage. You can also jump to our infographic to learn how to get your home disaster-ready.

States with the most disaster declarations

Over the last five years, all 50 U.S. states have issued at least one disaster declaration in preparation for or in response to a natural disaster event.

While small-scale weather disasters happen more frequently (for example, Hawaii averages 100 M3-level earthquakes a year), natural disaster declarations indicate where major events requiring additional aid and resources have occurred.

These five states issued the most disaster declarations from 2015–2019:

  1. California: California issued a whopping 84 disaster declarations, more than three times any other state! Most of these declarations were fire-related, although California did experience an earthquake, as well as notable severe storms and winter storms during this period.
  2. Washington: The Evergreen State is also a fire hotspot, issuing 30 disaster declarations related to flames. The state is also no stranger to flooding and snowstorms: it experienced three major disasters related to each.
  3. Oklahoma: In the heart of tornado alley, Oklahoma was actually more likely to issue disaster declarations for fires than severe storms or tornadoes. Over a five year period, Oklahoma issued 13 fire disaster declarations but it’s worth noting that in 2019, Oklahoma set the record for the most tornadoes.
  4. Oregon: Like it’s fellow neighbors in the West, Oregon’s most common disaster declaration was fire-related. The state issued 19 fire disaster declarations over a five year period. There was also one severe storm and four snowstorms.
  5. Texas: The first state not located in the West is the Southern state of Texas. Texas' unique geography makes it more prone to all-hazards (and expensive home insurance), and it issued disaster declarations for six of the eight during this period: Fires, severe storms, winter storms, tropical storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

 

2020 on track to have the most natural disaster declarations

While COVID-19 isn’t weather-related, its impacts on our public health, economy and way of life are far-reaching and catastrophic. Already, 2020 has had more natural disaster declarations on record than the previous five years, with 154 of these disaster declarations issued in response to the current COVID-19 crisis. 2020 is also on track to be the worst year in the U.S. for natural disaster declarations on record (previously, it was 2011).

States that pay the most for disasters

Over the past five years, the U.S. has spent an estimated $536 billion on climate and weather disasters. Four of the six U.S. states that have spent the most are in the South. This is likely because hurricanes are the most expensive natural disaster: Hurricane Katrina cost the U.S. 161 billion dollars in 2005, and Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria followed behind in 2017, at $125 billion and $90 billion respectively.

Over the last five years these states paid the most for natural disasters:

1. Texas: $100B-$200B

  • Costliest disaster: Hurricane Harvey
  • Hurricane deductible: $2,407*

2. California: $50B-$100B

  • Costliest disaster: Camp Fire

3. Florida: $50B-$100B

  • Costliest disaster: Hurricane Irma
  • Hurricane deductible: $3,839

4. North Carolina: $20B-$50B

  • Costliest disaster: Hurricane Harvey
  • Hurricane deductible: $3,283

5. Colorado (tied): $10B-$20B

  • Costliest disaster: 2018 wildfire season

6. Louisiana (tied): $10B-$20B

  • Costliest disaster: Hurricane Harvey
  • Hurricane deductible: $2,466

*1% Hurricane Deductible Cost/Year
Source: The Zebra

 

Scientists have long warned that the effects of climate change will make storms stronger and damage more widespread. A recent survey by The Zebra found that 65.1% of U.S. homeowners and renters also believe that climate change is causing worse storms where they live.

Most common types of natural disasters

Using data from FEMA, we took a look at natural disaster trends over the past five years from 2015-2019. Here are the most common types of major disasters in the U.S.

While FEMA has consistently ranked flooding as the most common natural disaster, fires have been the most frequent disaster declaration declared over the past five years. In 2018, the Camp Fire in California became the most deadly and destructive in the state’s history. It was also the costliest disaster that year, with an estimated $8.5 billion to $10.5 billion in insured losses.

How natural disasters impact your home insurance

Home damage sustained from natural disasters won’t necessarily be covered by a standard home insurance policy. Flooding, earthquakes, sinkholes and mudslides or landslides will all go uncovered by standard policies. If you live in an at-risk area for these disasters, you can and may even be required to purchase separate insurance, such as flood insurance or earthquake coverage.

So what does home insurance cover when it comes to weather? Here’s what will be covered by a bare-bones HO-2 policy:

Disaster-related perils commonly covered:Other perils commonly covered:
FireTheft
LightningVandalism
Weight of ice, snow and sleetDamage caused by vehicles
Windstorms and hailDamage from aircraft
Volcanic eruptionsRiots
Falling objectsExplosions
Water damage unrelated to floodingDamage from artificial electrical current
Freezing of household systemsSudden tearing, cracking or bulging of home

Even when damage is covered, remember that home insurers take your area’s risk into consideration when pricing out coverage. Florida has the highest hurricane deductible due to its increased risk, followed by Louisiana and Texas.

Since insurers calculate rates down to the ZIP code, you’ll get a better idea of coverage costs when you look at city data rather than just state averages—and you’ll get the best home insurance rate using our comparison tool.

Below, we list the cheapest city in each state for home insurance. Insurers consider these cities less risky than others in the state to insure, factoring in natural disasters and weather-related occurrences along with the number of claims filed nearby.

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii | $425
  2. Pike Creek, Delaware | $681
  3. Winooski, Vermont | $682
  4. Lancaster, Pennsylvania | $685
  5. Tualatin, Oregon | $697
  6. Oxnard, California | $722
  7. Clearfield, Utah | $735
  8. Washington, D.C. | $768
  9. Arlington, Virginia | $777
  10. Milford, New Hampshire | $782

The adage is true: It’s better to be over-prepared and underwhelmed. One of the most important steps to protect your assets in the event of an emergency is to purchase a home insurance policy in advance. In fact, most carriers won’t insure you once a natural disaster threat has been identified, so procrastination can be costly.

Natural disaster risks and the number of claims filed nearby are both major factors in home insurance costs, and insurers calculate rates down to the ZIP code. While it’s impossible to predict when a disaster will strike, our visual below walks through how you can get your home disaster-ready today.

Infographic

Methodology

To calculate natural disaster declarations, we counted the frequency of disaster declarations from FEMA over a five-year period from 2015–2019. We used this same frequency data to determine the most common types of disasters. Data from the NCDC provided natural disaster costs by state over the same five-year period.

We used proprietary data on home insurance costs to list the cities with the most affordable home insurance based on disaster risks and other factors.

Sources:

NOAA | FEMA

The ZebraResource Center