Discover the 10 States with the Most Natural Disasters

Written by Lev Baker
Published: July 12, 2023
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Nature’s fury can often be devastating, and the United States is no stranger to it. In 2022 alone, the U.S. endured 18 significant climate catastrophes, each inflicting over $1 billion in damages and tragically claiming 474 lives in total. This leads us to an intriguing question: Which states face the most natural disasters?

Today, we will explore and reveal the U.S. states most frequently impacted by natural disasters. By understanding these patterns, we can better prepare and respond to nature’s unpredictable moods.

1. California

Forest Fire

With an average of 4 natural disasters a year, California is prone to floods, wildfires, drought, earthquakes, and more.

©iStock.com/bradscottphotos

California certainly stands out when it comes to nature’s challenges. The state experiences a range of natural disasters and weather extremes every single year. In fact, it sits at the top of the list, with 284 federally declared natural disasters since 1953. That’s an average of 4 natural disasters every year!

The Golden State is known for its dramatic shifts in weather and climate. The snow accumulated during winter can quickly turn into floods with the arrival of spring. And scorching summers set the stage for wildfires that burn during the fall months.

Moreover, atmospheric rivers are now drenching the West Coast with overwhelming amounts of rain, more than the region can handle. On top of that, a stubborn megadrought has been causing problems for the area for years. 

The constant threat of earthquakes due to plate tectonics makes it all the more unpredictable.

What’s more, California has seen between 10 and 20 significant disaster and emergency events in recent decades.

At the end of 2022, weeks of severe storms caused billions of dollars in damage.

2. Texas

Texas Winter

The second state with the most natural disasters in the United States is Texas.

©Lea Bouknight/Shutterstock.com

Texas, having experienced 255 federally declared natural disasters since 1953, follows closely behind California as the second most disaster-prone state. In Texas, floods are the most frequent natural disasters.

The Lone Star State experiences wildfires, floods, tornadoes, erosion, hail storms, hurricanes, sinkholes, and droughts. 

There is usually at least one significant disaster event declared each year in Texas. The lower reaches of “Tornado Alley” extend into Texas, resulting in tornadoes throughout the year. During spring and fall, hurricanes like the recent destructive Harvey can wreak havoc in the south. On the other hand, sweltering summer temperatures set the stage for severe droughts and rampant wildfires. 

Despite having a low average annual rainfall, Texas often suffers from floods during periods of heavy, brief rain.

Additionally, excessive groundwater extraction and long-standing hydrocarbon production along the Gulf Coast have caused some areas to sink, making these populated regions more vulnerable to a range of natural hazards.

As per a report from the city of Austin, the freeze in 2021 resulted in around $195 billion in economic damage. And since 2010, droughts have cost Texas at least 15.5 billion dollars. And the wildfires earlier this year inflicted about $23.1 billion in damages on the agricultural sector. 

3. Oklahoma

Bridge Creek Tornado

Oklahoma deals with storms, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and more.

©Erin D. Maxwell / CC0 – License

Since 1953, Oklahoma has been hit by 173 federally declared natural disasters. While this is fewer than California and Texas, it is still more than most other states.

Oklahoma frequently deals with various natural disasters, including severe weather storms, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, extreme heat and droughts, winter storms, and landslides.

Just like in California and Texas, wildfires have had a significant effect on Oklahoma. Between 2000 and 2007, the state experienced an average of 1,458 wildfires monthly.

Oklahoma is well-known for its harsh weather conditions and fierce storms, which include supercell thunderstorms, lightning strikes, dust storms, strong winds, large hailstones (since it is located in “Hail Alley”), and torrential rain. 

Oklahoma is definitely located within Tornado Alley, although the exact boundaries are not definitive. The state sees an average of 55 tornadoes each year. The worst tornado outbreak in the state’s history occurred between May 3 and 4, 1999, with over 70 tornadoes reported. This outbreak resulted in damage amounting to $1.2 billion, along with 800 injuries and 46 deaths.

Significant natural disasters include the 2012 heatwave and drought, which resulted in $39.3 billion in damages. The winter storm and cold wave in February 2021 resulted in $25.6 billion in losses. The heatwave and drought in 2022 resulted in $22.2 billion in damages.

4. Washington

Photo of bricks from crumbling wall captured by fire escapes after the 2001 Washington earthquake

Washington is prone to wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and volcanic eruptions!

©Kevin Galvin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License

You might find it unexpected, but Washington ranks fourth in experiencing federally declared natural disasters. 

The list of Washington’s frequent natural hazards is quite extensive, featuring wildfires, floods, severe weather, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, periods of dry weather, and volcanic eruptions. Since 1953, the state has reported 136 such events.

The US Geological Survey reveals that the most damaging natural catastrophe in Washington is flooding! Floods mainly arise from intense rainfall and, depending on the time of year, fast snowmelt caused by heavy rain or bouts of warm air and wind.

As for earthquakes, Washington experiences over 1,000 each year. While most are minor, about a dozen or more are strong enough to be felt and occasionally lead to property damage.

Wildfires are also quite common in Washington, with over a thousand happening annually, primarily during the summer months. The most severe fire recorded in the state’s history started on August 15, 2015, consuming around 305,000 acres of land.

The late summer and fall of 2018 saw wildfires in the west, causing a hefty damage bill of $28.3 billion. February 2021 was marked by a severe winter storm, which left a financial impact of $25.6 billion. In 2022, an intense heatwave coupled with a severe drought took a toll of $22.2 billion.

5. Florida

Storm in the coast of Florida, USA.

It’s no surprise that Florida is hit by tropical storms and hurricanes year after year.

©Javier Cruz Acosta/Shutterstock.com

With around 130 federally declared natural disasters in the past 70 years, Florida is the fifth most disaster-prone state. Florida’s most frequent natural disasters encompass wildfires, hurricanes, tropical storms, severe weather, coastal storms, floods, and tornadoes.

In a given year, Florida typically faces more than a thousand wildfires. Some years, this number even surpasses two thousand! This includes both wildfires sparked naturally and those caused by human activities.

Florida is almost synonymous with tropical storms and hurricanes. Every year, the East Coast braces for the potential of one or two damaging hurricanes, with Florida often being the primary target, accounting for about 40% of these storms. Two particularly destructive hurricanes, Andrew in 1992 and Michael in 2018, struck Florida as Category 5 hurricanes, causing massive damage.

Being mostly at sea level and surrounded by expansive bodies of water on both sides, Florida is also prone to flooding.

Since 2000, the deadliest natural disasters in Florida include Hurricane Katrina in 2005, causing 14 deaths in the state, and Hurricane Ian in 2022, with 152 deaths. Other disasters include the 2000 drought and heat wave, which resulted in 140 deaths total – not just in Florida.

6. New York

NEW YORK Flooding Hurricane Sandy

New York has a moderate risk of experiencing natural disasters.

©MISHELLA/Shutterstock.com

In relation to the rest of the United States, New York faces a moderate risk of experiencing federally declared natural disasters. Leaving out the COVID pandemic, since 2000, New York has experienced 54 disaster occurrences. Among these, 37 were classified as major disasters.

Frequent natural calamities in New York consist of intense storms, floods, winter storms, tropical storms, and wildfires.

Annually, the East Coast anticipates between 20 to 40 nor’easters, storms along the East Coast of North America. While not all of these impact New York directly, even a single one can result in substantial economic damage.

One noteworthy flood incident took place between October 31 and November 1, 2019, in the state’s capital, Albany. The city encountered severe flooding when 7 inches of rain fell in 6 hours. This left 300,000 residents without power and resulted in damages of up to $33 million.

Snowfall is another hazard for New York. Combine heavy snow with hurricane-strength winds, and you get a blizzard, another calamity that often affects the eastern United States.

New York has also faced numerous natural disasters that have caused damages exceeding $1 billion. Since the turn of the millennium, the state has been impacted by more than 56 separate events, each causing damages of over $1 billion. Some of the most noteworthy disasters include Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Ida, and the 2012 drought and heat wave.

7. New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA downtown cityscape at twilight.

New Mexico has around 20 days of extreme heat every year.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

Since 2000, New Mexico has seen 76 federally declared natural disasters, with 17 of these being categorized as major disasters. The state’s most recurrent natural disasters include floods, wildfires, severe storms, drought, high heat, winter storms, landslides, and tornadoes.

Wildfires are a particular concern for New Mexico, primarily due to human carelessness, deliberate arson, and weather conditions, such as lightning. A significant recent wildfire was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, which ignited on May 9, 2012. New Mexico faces around 1,500 wildfires annually, consuming 300,000 to 400,000 acres of land.

Both general flooding and sudden flash floods pose significant threats to the state.

Moreover, New Mexico faces around 20 days of extreme heat per year, potentially endangering an estimated 80,000 residents.

New Mexico has also frequently been hit by natural disasters, each inflicting over $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, the state has experienced over 32 separate billion-dollar events. 

The costliest disaster in New Mexico since 2000 was the drought and heatwave in 2012, with damages amounting to $39.3 billion. But keep in mind that this figure also takes other affected states into consideration.

8. Alabama

Alabama Gulf Shores beach area.

Alabama experiences severe storms and tornadoes.

©MarynaG/Shutterstock.com

Natural disasters striking Alabama often result in damages surpassing $1 billion. Since the dawn of the new millennium, the state has seen the majority of these disasters where damages exceeded $1 billion.

The usual suspects when it comes to natural disasters in Alabama are violent storms, tropical cyclones, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, extreme heat waves, and landslides.

A regular event in Alabama is severe storms, with tornadoes playing a significant part. From 1950 onwards, Alabama has been hit by over 600 tornadoes of F2 intensity or higher, some of which have even reached the devastating F5 level. And the state has experienced close to 3,000 tornadoes altogether! Considering the high risk, it’s recommended that Alabamians have access to an underground shelter to protect against tornadoes.

Alabama is also one of the states most exposed to hurricanes.

Although Alabama has only experienced one flood event that crossed the $1 billion mark since 2000, it doesn’t mean the state is free from flood risks. Floods are a common occurrence in Alabama, typically triggered by hurricanes, heavy rains, and rivers exceeding their banks. Flash floods are also not uncommon.

The most expensive natural disaster in Alabama since 2000 was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, causing damages of about $186.3 billion in total!

9. Colorado

High Park Fire - biggest wildfire in Colorado

On average, there are around 5,500 wildfires in Colorado every year.

©Dawn Wilson Photo/Shutterstock.com

Colorado, since 1953, has witnessed 80 federally declared natural disasters. While this number is relatively lower compared to other states, it is still considerably high when viewed in a national context. The state frequently contends with wildfires, floods, winter storms, severe weather conditions, tornadoes, and droughts.

On an annual basis, Colorado’s fire officials typically tackle around 5,500 wildfires. The Hayman Fire, which began in June 2002, stands as Colorado’s most extensive wildfire in terms of the area burnt. This devastating incident destroyed over 138,000 acres of land, led to the loss of 133 homes, and took six lives.

Like any other state in the U.S., Colorado is susceptible to flooding. The Big Thompson Flood in July 1976, which resulted in 143 deaths, remains the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history.

During the winter months, Colorado often faces blizzards accompanied by strong winds and heavy snowfall, minor snow showers, freezing fog, and a phenomenon known as rime ice. Given the state’s substantial snowfall and mountainous terrain, avalanches are a common threat— with an average of 2,500 incidents per year.

10. Louisiana

thunderstorm clouds approaching in louisiana swamps, usa

Louisiana is the tenth most disaster-prone state in the US.

©Peter Wey/Shutterstock.com

In the 21st century, Louisiana has faced 54 federally recognized natural disasters, 33 classified as major disasters. The Pelican State faces several natural disasters, such as hurricanes, severe storms, floods, tornadoes, extreme heat and drought, and wildfires.

Louisiana’s geographical profile, being relatively low-altitude and part of a flood plain, makes it highly susceptible to floods.

Louisiana’s location also makes it a frequent target for tropical storms and hurricanes. The state is no stranger to tornadoes either, with an annual average of 44 tornadoes. While the state has been fortunate to evade EF5 tornadoes and has experienced only one EF4 tornado in recent history, numerous EF3 tornadoes have occurred over the years.

Located in what the National Weather Service describes as the “Extreme Heat Belt” of central United States, Louisiana is at risk of exceptionally high-temperature days as well.

With regard to wildfires, Louisiana faces a high-risk scenario, witnessing more than a thousand wildfires each year on average.

In the last 23 years, Louisiana has been hit by 53 separate natural disasters, each of them causing damages over $1 billion.

The most catastrophic of these disasters was, of course, Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This hurricane left a hefty loss of $190 billion and a heartbreaking death toll of 1,833 lives in its wake.

Summary of the 10 States with the Most Natural Disasters

RankStateNumber of Federally Declared Disasters Since 1953
1California284
2Texas255
3Oklahoma173
4Washington136
5Florida130
6New York95
7New Mexico83
8Alabama82
9Colorado80
10Louisiana79

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/bradscottphotos


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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

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