By: Tyler Curry

Each year, between June 1st and November 30, those living across the Atlantic are at the mercy of unsettling winds of hurricane season. Mega hitters like Sandy and Katrina leave permanent marks on the economy, with lives lost and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Hurricane season is already here, and so is the growing understanding that hurricanes are one of the most damaging natural disasters in the United States. Using Visart software, these charts show all damage caused by natural disasters (note: all damage numbers are inflated to adjust 2013). 

The chart below shows overall damage caused by natural disasters, over time, categorized into four major categories:

  • Climatological – Extreme temperatures that include heat waves, cold waves, extreme weather conditions (i.e. snow pressure and icing), droughts and wildfires.
  • Geophysical – Ground-shaking events, such as earthquakes and volcanoes.
  • Hydrological – Floods, landslide, avalanche , and other subsidence of mass movement.
  • Meteorological – Tropical cyclones (hurricanes), winter storms, local storms (tornados, blizzards, strong winds, etc.)

100 Years 1

The chart above indicates that the majority of damages have occurred after the late 1980’s and mostly as meteorological events. Could the change in natural events have anything to do with global warming?

Let’s also look at the deaths caused by these events during the same period:

100 Years 2

Here we see a different picture. Deaths were more common in the early 20th century. Trends do not show an increase in recent history, unlike overall damages. This could be attributed to three factors. First, property value is much higher than the decades prior. Second reason is that newer properties are more likely to be far more damage resistant than in the early 20th century. Last, science is more sophisticated and populations are more aware and better prepared for the strength of upcoming meteorological events.

Focusing on recent years (1985 – 2013), show the four most damaging types of disasters (i.e. earthquakes, local storms, floods, tropical cyclones) during this time period:

100 Years 3

Hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, show the most damage from years 1985 – 2013. The chart, below, shows total monetary amount damages – $477 billion, in under 20 years. Damages from local storms like tornadoes and strong winds caused over $155 million during the same time period.

100 Years 5

Interestingly enough, local storms show the highest causal relationship to deaths that occurred during this time period. In other words, while the economic damage may not be as high, the death tolls are the highest from local storms. This can be explained by the affect local storms have on smaller areas compared to hurricanes largely affected areas with severe monetary damage. Often, people in smaller events have less time to prepare. On the other hand, hurricanes are longer lasting events where people in affected areas ave sufficient time to evacuate or take shelter.

An important factor in total damage and deaths is the frequency of occurrence for each event type.  The chart below compares average damages and deaths per event from years 1985 – 2013. This chart indicates that hurricanes are still the most impacting disaster types, indicated by total losses and deaths.100 Years 4


EM-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database – – Universite Catholique de Louvain – Brussels – Belgium.