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2012 costly year for U.S. disasters

Hurricane Sandy and yearlong drought major causes of disaster expense

June 17, 2013

According to the National Climate Data Center’s (NCDC) weather and climate disasters information, 2012 saw 11 weather and climate disaster events each with losses exceeding $1 billion in damages.

Hurricane Sandy and an extensive drought were among seven severe weather and tornado events, two tropical cyclone events, as well as wildfires which made 2012 the United States’ second costliest year for natural disasters since 1980.

The two major drivers of the damage costs in 2012 were Sandy at approximately $65 billion and the yearlong drought at approximately $30 billion. Sandy’s large size, with tropical storm force winds extending nearly 500 miles from the center, led to record storm surge, large-scale flooding, wind damage, and mass power outages along much of the East Coast.

These 11 events killed over 300 people and had devastating effects on the economy in the areas impacted. With 11 events, 2012 also ranks second highest in the total number of billion-dollar events behind 2011, which had 14 events.

NOAA found that the drought and related heat waves caused more than 100 direct deaths and an unknown number of indirect fatalities. Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.

The costliest year on record for natural disasters was 2005- the year Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf with $160 billion in damages.

During the past year, NOAA has been reviewing its methodology to ensure that its estimates are accurate and unbiased by changes in prices, population, and other sources. “In performing these disaster-cost assessments, these statistics were taken from a wide variety of sources and represent, to the best of our ability, the estimated total costs of these events — that is, the costs in terms of dollars that would not have been incurred had the event not taken place,” NOAA said. The report incorporated both insured and uninsured losses and estimates from other federal agencies, state governments, insurers, and other sources.

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