States with the most natural disasters in 2021

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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2021 has been an unprecedented year for natural disasters in the U.S. Through the first three quarters of the year, 18 weather events have occurred with losses exceeding $1 billion, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. It’s also been the deadliest year since 2011 from weather-related events, primarily because of tornadoes in the South. This doesn't even take into account the rare late-season tornadoes that devastated Kentucky on December 10-11. 

States across the nation have faced a range of extreme weather, like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts. While insurance claims for each event are still being estimated, an early look at the number of FEMA-declared disasters reveals that some states were impacted more frequently than others. 

We tallied the number of federally declared disasters to find out which states have faced the most ongoing natural disasters throughout 2021. Keep reading to see what areas fared the worst, plus find out the natural disaster causing the most damage in 2021.

#1: California

California’s ongoing drought issues have made the state a prime territory for wildfires. Fires have always been an issue in the state, but increasing temperatures due to climate change have merely accelerated the issue in recent years. 

In 2021, FEMA declared 11 federal disasters in California, all of which were due to fires. Over 3 million acres have burned, along with over 3,600 structures. In order to protect homeowners in affected areas, the California government placed a moratorium on insurance companies dropping coverage for those who live in wildfire-prone areas. In total, AccuWeather expects fire-related insurance losses to total between $45 and $55 billion for the state.

#2: Washington

Washington state has also experienced a large share of wildfires throughout 2021, with nine federally declared disasters this year. Most wildfires occurred in July and August, although one of the disasters included a severe winter storm at the beginning of the year. The severity of the storm included straight line winds, flooding, mudslides and landslides. 500,000 people lost power during the storm and total damages exceeded $21 million.

650,000 acres burned in Washington this year, with a major uptick in the summer months when temperatures were above average for the year and a drought had already settled in.

#3: Louisiana

Rather than suffering from one major ongoing weather event, Louisiana got hit by multiple natural disasters throughout 2021, five of which were declared by FEMA. The year kicked off with severe ice storms in February, followed by spring storms in May that included flooding and tornadoes.

But the biggest event of the year was Hurricane Ida, which landed on Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in late August. The storm is responsible for 115 deaths in the state and insurance losses estimated at a staggering $30 billion. The damage for all impacted states is expected to reach $95 billion, making Ida the 7th costliest storm since 200. 

On top of that, early studies reveal that as much as 106 square miles of the Louisiana coastline could be lost because of the storm. In September, Ida was followed by Tropical Storm Nicholas, which hit many of the same areas still trying to recover from the previous hurricane.

#4: Montana

2021 brought both fire and severe winds to Montana, with federal aid kicking in for more substantial outbreaks throughout the summer months. Nearly 1 million acres have burned across the state this year, which is the most damage done since 2017. In addition to damage, injury and evacuation orders, the wildfires have also caused air quality issues in Montana. The southern part of the state received air quality warnings throughout the summer, ranging from moderate to unhealthy, depending on location.

#5: Arizona

Over half a million acres burned due to wildfires in Arizona during 2021. In addition to high temperatures and drought, thunderstorms putting off dry lightning also increased the scale and frequency of the fires. June brought the state’s sixth-largest fire ever and at the time was the largest fire in the U.S (until being surpassed by Oregon’s Bootleg Fire later in July). Dubbed the Telegraph Fire, it burned for a full month, destroying over 180,000 acres.

#6: Oregon

Oregon was hit with a major winter storm early in the year, followed by major wildfires; altogether, four federal disasters were declared. Snow, ice and freezing rain hit the state hard in February, leaving over 250,000 homes without power. Wildfires weren’t as catastrophic as those that burned in 2020, but substantial damage still occurred from the three FEMA-declared fires (and others that weren’t declared). Over 825,000 acres were burned with nearly half attributed to the Bootleg Fire.

States with the most natural disasters in 2021-01


Final thoughts

Climate change continues to exacerbate extreme weather events, many of which are interlinked — like droughts, wildfires and severe winds. Insurance loss records are being broken due to the breadth of damage occurring to homes, business and land. More of the same may be on the horizon for 2022, as NOAA has predicted drier-than-average environments for western parts of the country in the first quarter. An expected La Niña pattern, however, could lead to a warmer winter for the East Coast and Southern U.S.