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Many Factors Play a Part in Increasing Number of Disasters Declared in Kansas

Does it seem like there are more reports of federal disaster declarations or severe-weather damage in Kansas these days? That feeling may not be too far off base. A recent article from the Topeka Capital-Journal looked at the some of the data over the past 60 years and found some interesting patterns of increasing disaster numbers over time.

Number of Disasters Increases More Over Past Decade Than in 50 Years Before

Road Sign With the Word RecoveryAlthough it’s clear in many places that more people are being affected by extreme weather, there have also been some official numbers that show increases—at least in Kansas. According to numbers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Kansas has seen more declared disasters in just the last 10 years than it had in the 50 previous years. From 2004 to 2013, FEMA recorded 29 disasters in Kansas. From 1953 to 2003, there were 27 disasters total. FEMA showed fewer disaster declarations in Western Kansas. Most declared disasters were related to weather events, but there were a few instances of disaster declarations related to fires and Hurricane Katrina evacuations.

For just Shawnee County, the third-most populous county in the state and home of the capital city Topeka, the pattern was similar. There have been eight disasters declared in the past decade, but only five in the 50 years previous.   

Insurance Claims for Weather-Related Damages Also on the Rise

While disaster numbers and the total cost of damage claims each year aren’t always related, there has also been a pattern of increasing costs for weather damage in Kansas. By averaging the damage claims reported by the Kansas Insurance Department in five-year segments, the Topeka Capital-Journal found a pattern of increasing costs:

  • From 1994 to 1998, there was an annual average of $92 million in storm-related insurance claims. 
  • From 1999 to 2003, there was an annual average of $339 million.
  • From 2004 to 2008, there was an annual average of $551 million.

Reasons for the Upward Trends on Weather Damage and Disasters

It’s difficult to say why more disasters have been declared in recent years or why disaster-related insurance numbers are up. Disaster declarations are initiated at the county level and moved to the state level before being reviewed by FEMA. FEMA then considers a number of factors, which might include how many homes were affected or how public services are affected, before sending it on to the president to issue a declaration. The increase in disaster declarations in Kansas has come under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but it is unclear if political or personal beliefs have played any part in the increase.

However, there are many factors that could affect the numbers, and those numbers don’t necessarily mean that Kansans are less safe or experiencing more weather events. According to various experts, some potential causes for the increasing numbers include:

  • More homes and businesses expanding into areas that were previously sparsely populated.
  • Storms hitting areas of the state with higher property values, leading to more insurance claims.
  • More damage from storms that are very severe, but aren’t declared disasters.
  • Better documentation of small tornadoes and other weather events.

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