A combination of devastating hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters has made 2017 the most costly U.S. disaster year that has ever been recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With the combination of three major hurricanes in quick succession, 2017 surpassed the previous record high disaster year 2005, when Hurricane Katrina led to $215 billion in U.S. losses. Attorney Bill Voss explores why losses were so extreme and how to prepare for an increase in disaster costs in the future.
Weather Events That Cost the U.S. Billions in 2017
The NOAA report attributed the high costs of natural catastrophes to smaller storms as well as 16 separate disaster events that caused more than $1 billion in damage each. Major events included eight severe storms, three tropical cyclones, two inland floods, a crop freeze, a drought, and spread of wildfire.
The most costly adverse weather events of 2017 included:
- Hurricane Harvey. This category 4 hurricane was the year’s most expensive disaster, causing $125 billion in damage alone. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas during August and September, causing never before seen levels of rainfall over Houston and the surrounding areas. Rainfall across the state ranged from 30 inches to 60 inches, with extended periods of flooding severely damaging over 200,000 homes and businesses.
- Hurricane Irma. Irma was a category 5 storm that hit Florida in early September, after first doing damage to St. John, St. Thomas, and other Caribbean islands. Hurricane Irma caused $50 billion in total damage to the Florida Keys, destroying 25% of buildings and damaging 65% of structures on the islands. Severe storm surge also caused damage along the Florida and South Carolina coastlines, with sustained wind speeds of over 185 mph lasting for 37 hours.
- Hurricane Maria. This category 4 storm struck Puerto Rico in September, causing a major—and ongoing—humanitarian crisis. Homes, businesses, and infrastructure will take years to rebuild in this U.S. territory, which suffered $90 billion in wind and flooding damage.
- Western wildfires. Wildfires raged across the northwestern United States following a period of drought throughout September and October, burning over 9.8 million acres of land. The total costs of the wildfires totaled nearly $18 billion, three times the previous record for a U.S. wildfire season set in 1991.
- Flooding. Major flooding events are on the rise, especially non-tropical inland flooding. In 2017, the U.S. saw two separate inland flood events in California and the Midwest, each totaling costs of over a billion dollars. Researchers expect these regional flooding trends to continue, posing a major threat to U.S. homes and businesses.
Future Disasters Likely to Affect Future Claims and Economic Climate
With Harvey, Irma, and Maria now joining Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as the five most costly U.S. hurricanes on record, hurricanes continue to be the highest single cause of weather damage nationwide. However, the record-breaking storm year shows a larger trend: the increase of costly and devastating storms due to climate change.
Although hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and other severe weather events occur naturally, studies have detected an increase in both frequency and intensity of the events in recent years. Some researchers believe that disasters costing over one billion dollars are fast becoming the norm, but climate change intervention could help mitigate the costs and destruction of future natural disasters.
Another concern for homeowners and businesses is the rising cost of disaster insurance. Consumers in areas that are hardest hit often see higher hurricane deductibles and are likely to have claims denied in order to save the insurer money. Thousands of policyholders are often forced into bankruptcy due to denied or insufficient coverage, while others may see a decline in property value.
Are you still waiting on fair payment from an insurance company after a major storm? We can help if your insurer is attempting to deny, delay, or underpay your hurricane claim. Simply fill out the form on this page today to contact the Voss Law Firm or order a free copy of our book, Commercial Property Owners Must Read This BEFORE Filing an Insurance Claim.