Cloudy with a chance of extreme weather: States with the least — and most — natural disasters

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The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has calculated that the number of weather-related disasters has increased five-fold in the last 50 years. The good news is that even as natural disasters have gone up, the number of deaths as a result of the disasters has fallen by two-thirds. However, economic losses from disasters are on the rise and expected to continue.

When it comes to buying a home, people are increasingly conscientious of these environmental risks. More than 60% of Millennials report that they took natural disasters into account when choosing the location of their home, and another 60% report that they have considered moving because of concerns about natural disasters.1

With that in mind, Orchard examined Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data of declared emergencies to find out which states have the least natural disasters, and which states have the most. It’s important to note that no state or neighborhood is completely safe from severe weather events or other natural disasters, but our results show that there are certainly some that are more prone to them.

What is a natural disaster?

‘Natural disaster’ is a broad term encompassing all types of severe weather as well as other environmental threats — like earthquakes, volcanoes, and wildfires — which pose a significant threat to personal safety, infrastructure, property, and security.

This broad definition can make it difficult to determine what qualifies as a disaster vs. an extreme event. For the purposes of this study, we examined federally declared disasters — or those in which the President has declared an emergency and FEMA has responded. It’s important to note that these declared disasters represent the most extreme events tracked by FEMA, and do not reflect all of the natural disaster risks for any given state in our list.

Key takeaways

  • As a whole, fire is the most common cause of a declared disaster.
  • Severe storms — including winter storms, tornadoes, flooding, and more — was the second most common natural disaster.
  • Disasters were spread across states, with only four states reporting no federal disasters since 2021.
  • The top states experience a disproportionate number of natural disasters. Of the 85 disasters declared across the U.S. since 2021, just under 50% were located in 10 states.

States with most natural disasters

The following five states had the highest occurrence of declared natural disasters since 2021, accounting for 57 of the total 185 declared disasters in the U.S. (approximately 30%).

State Number of declared disasters 2022 Number of declared disasters 2021 Total declared disasters since 2021
Washington 5 10 15
California 5 8 13
Florida 7 3 10
Texas 6 4 10
Arizona 4 5 9

1. Washington

Washington’s location and geological composition puts it at high risk of natural disasters, ranging from volcanic eruption and tsunamis, to wildfires and flooding. Since 2021, Washington has had 15 declared emergencies, including wildfires, severe storms, flooding and mudslides, straight-line winds, and snowstorms. Since 1953 there have been a total of 196 disasters in the state.

Declaration name Declaration date
Washington Nakia Creek Fire October 17, 2022
Washington Bolt Creek Fire September 10, 2022
Washington Lind Fire August 4, 2022
Washington Severe Winter Storms, Snowstorms, Straight-line Winds, Flooding March 29, 2022
Washington Flooding and Mudslides January 5, 2022
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Wildfires December 21, 2021
Washington Schneider Springs Fire August 19, 2021
Washington Twentyfive Mile Fire August 18, 2021
Washington Muckamuck Fire August 16, 2021
Washington Ford Corkscrew Fire August 16, 2021
Washington Cedar Creek Fire July 20, 2021
Washington Red Apple Fire July 14, 2021
Washington Chuweah Creek Fire July 13, 2021
Washington Andrus Fire July 6, 2021
Washington Severe Winter Storm, Straight-line Winds, Flooding, Landslides, and Mudslides April 8, 2021

2. California

The expansive state of California is full of environmental risks: the San Andreas fault, drought, exposure to coastal storms, and flooding. However, since 2021, the greatest threat to California has been wildfire. Of the 13 declared FEMA disasters in that timeframe, each was caused by fire, with August and September being the most fire active months.

Declaration name Declaration date
California Mill Fire September 2, 2022
California Coastal Fire May 12, 2022
California Oak Fire July 23, 2022
California Mosquito Fire September 9, 2022
California Fairview Fire September 6, 2022
California Alisal Fire October 13, 2021
California Fawn Fire September 23, 2021
California Caldor Fire August 17, 2021
California French Fire August 25, 2021
California Wildfires August 24, 2021
California Monument Fire August 17, 2021
California River Fire August 5, 2021
California Dixie Fire July 20, 2021

3. Florida (tied)

Florida’s location near the equator makes it a tropical destination ideal for spring breakers and snow birds alike. However, the warm coastal climate puts Florida at high risk for hurricanes and tropical storms. Since 2021, hurricanes and tropical storms have accounted for seven of the ten declared disasters in the state.

Declaration name Declaration date
Florida Tropical Storm Nicole November 8, 2022
Florida Tropical Storm Nicole November 9, 2022
Seminole Tribe of Florida Hurricane Ian September 30, 2022
Florida Hurricane Ian September 29, 2022
Florida Tropical Storm Ian September 24, 2022
Florida Chipola Fire Complex March 6, 2022
Florida 1707 Adkins Ave Fire March 4, 2022
Florida Tropical Storm Fred August 16, 2021
Florida Tropical Storm Elsa July 4, 2021
Florida Surfside Building Collapse June 25, 2021

Note: While the majority of FEMA disasters are the result of severe weather, they may also declare a disaster in the event of biological or man-made disasters. This is why the Florida Surfside Building Collapse, one of the deadliest structural failures in U.S. history, appears on this list.

3. Texas (tied)

Another expansive coastal state, Texas is at risk of a variety of natural disasters including hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, and more. But once again, fire accounted for the majority of declared disasters in this state.

Declaration name Declaration date
Texas Chalk Mountain Fire July 19, 2022
Texas Hard Castle Fire July 7, 2022
Texas Mesquite Heat Fire May 18, 2022
Texas Big L Fire March 20, 2022
Texas Wheat Field Fire March 18, 2022
Texas Kidd Fire March 17, 2022
Texas North 207 Fire December 15, 2021
Texas County Line Fire December 10, 2021
Texas Severe Winter Storms February 19, 2021
Texas Severe Winter Storm February 14, 2021

5. Arizona

The Grand Canyon state is home to a diverse landscape filled with equal parts desert and forests. Arizona is the only landlocked state to appear in our top-five, and while the protection from coastal weather keeps Arizonans safe from some forms of natural disaster, the state has been in various stages of drought since 1994, putting it at increased risk of wildfire.

Declaration name Declaration date
Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community September 2, 2022
Arizona Pipeline Fire June 12, 2022
Arizona Crooks Fire April 19, 2022
Arizona Tunnel 2 Fire April 19, 2022
Arizona Severe Storms and Flooding September 13, 2021
Arizona Telegraph Fire June 6, 2021
Arizona Spur Fire May 27, 2021
Arizona Margo Fire April 8, 2021
Navajo Nation Covid-19 Pandemic February 2, 2021

States with least natural disasters

The states with the least natural disasters experienced a disproportionately low number of declared emergencies since 2021 — accounting for just 9 of the 185 emergencies declared (or less than 1%).

State Number of declared disasters 2022 Number of declared disasters 2021 Total declared disasters since 2021
Indiana 0 0 0
Ohio 0 0 0
Wisconsin 0 0 0
Wyoming 0 0 0
Arkansas 0 1 1
Delaware 0 1 1
Iowa 1 0 1
Maine 1 0 1
Maryland 0 1 1
Michigan 0 1 1
New Hampshire 0 1 1
Pennsylvania 0 1 1
South Carolina 1 0 1

1. Indiana (tied)

The Hoosier state has had just over 50 disasters since 1953, with the most common being severe storms and floods. With an average of less than one declared disaster per year, and no declared disasters since 2021, Indiana tops our list of states with the least natural disasters.

1. Ohio (tied)

Another state tied for first on our list of states with the least natural disasters, Ohio has had only 59 declared disasters since 1953. Of those, severe storms account for almost half of the events, with floods following close behind.

However, Ohio isn’t free of extreme weather — tornadoes are not uncommon in the months of April to August and parts of the state experience more than 80 inches of snowfall per year. Despite this, Ohioan’s preparedness may be to thank for the low occurrence of declared disasters.

1. Wisconsin (tied)

Historically, Wisconsin has experienced over 50 declared disasters, with severe storms and floods accounting for the majority. Since 1950, the state has become much wetter — precipitation has increased by 17%. And while extreme precipitation events are forecasted for the state’s near and long-term future, Wisconsin has been disaster free since 2021.

1. Wyoming (tied)

Wyoming has also been declared disaster free since 2021; however the state isn’t entirely immune. Since 1953, there have been 38 disasters declared in Wyoming, including 22 fires, six floods, three severe storms, two tornados, and five others.

5. Arkansas (tied)

The homestate of former President Bill Clinton also boasts only one declared disaster since 2021. However, Arkansas is also home to severe storms including tornadoes and even the occasional tropical storm like 2005’s hurricane Rita which brought up to six inches of rain, wind gusts over 50 mph, and power outages for over 60,000 households.

  • Arkansas Severe Storms and Tornadoes- December 23, 2021

5. Delaware (tied)

This coastal state is vulnerable to some tropical storms, but Delaware has had only 25 declared disasters since 1953. On top of that, the state enjoys a moderate climate year round, making it a temperate place to live. 

  • Delaware Remnants of Hurricane Ida- October 24, 2021

5. Iowa (tied)

There have been 73 disasters declared in Iowa since 1953, but only one since 2021. Of the disasters the state has experienced, most have been from severe storms and floods.

  • Iowa Severe Storms, Straight-line Winds, and Tornadoes- February 23, 2022

5. Maine (tied)

Maine’s diverse landscape is vulnerable to severe storms, coastal weather, fire, floods, and more, but still, the pine tree state has had only one declared disaster since 2021. The late season winter storm brought heavy snowfall and rain.

  • Maine Severe Storm and Flooding - March 15, 2022

5. Maryland (tied)

Maryland has had only 37 declared disasters in its history. The causes of these disasters are relatively equally split between floods, hurricanes, severe storms, and snow storms. In 2021, the state was battered by tropical storm Isaias but has had no other declared emergencies since then.

  • Maryland Tropical Storm Isaias- February 4, 2021

5. Michigan (tied)

The number of extreme precipitation events (days with precipitation of two inches or more) has been on the rise since 2000, with the last two years experiencing the highest volume. Despite these extreme events, the Great Lakes State has reported only 43 disasters since 1953.

  • Michigan Severe Storms, Flooding, and Tornadoes- July 15, 2021

5. New Hampshire (tied)

New Hampshire is known for its beautiful fall foliage, followed by frigid winters and heavy snowfall. However, the state is disaster resilient, reporting only 57 disasters since 1953, a majority of which were the result of severe storms.

  • New Hampshire Severe Storm and Flooding- September 30, 2021

5. Pennsylvania (tied)

The keystone state has had 63 disasters in the last 70 years, almost half of which were caused by flooding. Pennsylvania’s geography makes it vulnerable to this type of disaster, and climate change promises to bring more. Still, they have only experienced one declared disaster since 2021 as a result of Hurricane Ida. 

  • Pennsylvania Remnants of Hurricane Ida- September 10, 2021

5. South Carolina (tied)

South Carolina’s coastline puts it at risk of tropical storms and hurricanes, and in 2022 declared an emergency for Hurricane Ian. However, the state has only had 40 declared emergencies.

  • South Carolina Hurricane Ian- September 29, 2022

How do natural disasters affect home values?

The impact a natural disaster has on your home’s value will depend on a variety of factors, including the extent of damage to the home, scope of damage in the area, and the demand for location after the event. For example, some areas are more accustomed to rebuilding after a natural disaster and home values there may be more resilient. While others may experience more of the following:

Housing may be hard to find

If families are displaced from their homes following a disaster, housing inventory in nearby unaffected areas can become constricted. This can drive up home values and rents in surrounding areas, while prices plummet in the affected area.

Homeownership decreases in affected areas

Research published in the University of Chicago Press Journal shows that homeownership in affected areas also decreases following a natural disaster. Even as people move back to these areas, they increasingly rent, fearing the financial impact and loss of incurring damage from severe weather.

Home and disaster insurance premiums can go up

Your insurer may expect the recurrence after a natural disaster and raise your insurance premiums. This can have a significant impact on the affordability of living in an area and decrease demand for homes there, further impacting home values.

How can I protect my home from a natural disaster?

The first step to protecting your home from a natural disaster is to familiarize yourself with the hazards it’s most vulnerable to. Some states, like California, require sellers to inform buyers of various environmental risks in the seller’s disclosure. Local real estate and emergency officials are other great resources for understanding your home’s vulnerabilities.

Once you’re familiar with the risks, consult FEMA’s suggestions for preparing for a disaster and reinforce your home accordingly. For example, in areas prone to wildfire, you can start by fire-hardening your home and creating a 30-foot safety zone around your property free of vines, shrubs, and other vegetation.

Methodology

Orchard pulled data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Declared Disaster Database from 2021 to mid-November 2022 (when this study was published). We first examined the total number of declared disasters per state, and then pulled a list of all declared disasters in the U.S. from 2021 to mid-November 2022.

Winnie Ng, data scientist at Orchard, contributed to the data collection and analysis for this report.

Selected sources

Jones, H. (2021, September 27). Homeowners concerned with natural disasters. Realtor.com Economic Research.

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