Key findings:

  • States with the highest increase in natural disasters were wildfire prone states.
  • Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico saw the largest increase in natural disasters with wildfires being the primary cause.
  • Texas, California and Oklahoma led the nation in natural disasters from 2000 to 2017 with fires being the primary natural disaster.
  • Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin had the least impact of natural disasters with a combination of flooding and severe storms.
  • $485 billion in estimated property loss from 2000 to 2017.

If it seems like storms, wildfires and hurricanes in the United States get more frequent every year, then you would be correct. We analyzed FEMA data from a period of 1980 to 1999 compared to 2000 to 2017 and found natural disasters have increased 165% nationwide. The states that saw the largest increase in natural disasters are western states most affected by wildfires. Of the top 15 states with the highest increase in natural disasters, all states except Kansas and Alaska had wildfires as the most common natural disaster.

The massive rate of increase in natural disasters in the fire prone states is due to a number of climate and man made causes. Wildfires in the western United States are not only becoming more frequent, but larger in size and deaths. California’s five largest fires on record have occurred since 2010. The Mendocino Complex fire in 2018 burned over 459,000 acres and is the largest fire in state history by a wide margin. The Camp Fire in 2018 was the state's deadliest fire on record, accounting for 85 deaths.

Many climate experts attribute the increase and severity of wildfires in the western United states to a temperature increase in the since the 1980’s. Some argue that a three degree Fahrenheit increase due to climate change has a significant impact on wildfires. Weather patterns across the western United States are more commonly becoming long periods of wet winter weather, with long, hot and dry summers. Wet winters allows for foliage to grow in the forested regions. All the foliage becomes fuel for wildfires in the summers when it dries out during extended hot periods. That paired with firefighting practices of containment over the last century leaves forested areas to become like kindling for fires.

Humans are starting to become the cause of the largest wildfires. California’s largest wildfires on record are mostly caused by humans or power lines. By humans causing most large fires, there’s more likely hood of these largest fires being near larger populations. Which is why we’re seeing more human casualties and man made structures being affected by wildfires. All factors of climate change and human intervention are making wildfires become the most common natural disaster in the country.

QuoteWizard analyzed FEMA natural disaster data to find states that have experienced the highest rate of natural disasters from the year 1980 to 1999 compared with 2000 to 2017. Rankings are based on which states saw the largest increase in total number of disaster declarations from the period of 1980-1999 to 2000-2017. The comparison is meant to show which states experienced the highest increase in natural disasters over the comparative time period.

Rankings

Rank State % increase of natural disasters Total from 2000-2017 Total from 1980-1999
1 Colorado 1350 58 4
2 Nevada 733 50 6
3 New Mexico 663 61 8
4 Wyoming 600 21 3
5 Oklahoma 578 122 18
6 Montana 514 43 7
7 Arizona 450 44 8
8 Utah 360 23 5
9 California 325 153 36
10 Alaska 311 37 9
11 Kansas 300 40 10
12 Oregon 280 38 10
13 Texas 244 172 50
14 Hawaii 222 29 9
15 West Virginia 217 38 12
16 South Dakota 215 41 13
17 North Dakota 2.1 31 10
18 Nebraska 208 37 12
19 New Hampshire 200 33 11
20 South Carolina 200 21 7
21 Idaho 183 17 6
22 Missouri 179 39 14
23 Washington 165 61 23
24 Kentucky 144 39 16
25 Massachusetts 142 29 12
26 New Jersey 141 29 12
27 Maryland 138 19 8
28 Vermont 133 28 12
29 Virginia 125 36 16
30 Connecticut 122 20 9
31 Georgia 113 32 15
32 Iowa 100 32 16
33 Rhode Island 100 12 6
34 Ohio 92 25 13
35 Arkansas 88 32 17
36 New York 80 47 26
37 Tennessee 79 34 19
38 Maine 78 32 18
39 Minnesota 75 28 16
40 Delaware 71 12 7
41 Mississippi 62 34 21
42 Louisiana 59 35 22
43 Florida 53 66 43
44 Indiana 53 23 15
45 North Carolina 42 27 19
46 Alabama 23 38 31
47 Pennsylvania 20 24 20
48 Wisconsin 18 20 17
49 Illinois 5 23 22
50 Michigan 0 12 12