01Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami - $360 Billion
Japan's economy was dealt a devastating blow by the 9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that pummeled the country on March 11, 2011. An estimated 28,000 died, and 500,000 were displaced. It cost $360 billion.
It damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which leaked radiation into the Pacific Ocean, raising levels to 4,000 times the legal limit. Radiation showed up in local milk and vegetables, and briefly appeared in Tokyo's drinking water.
02Hurricane Katrina - $160 Billion to $250 Billion
The National Hurricane Center estimated Hurricane Katrina's damage at $125 billion, with $80 billion in insured losses. That's $160 billion when adjusted for inflation.
Half of these losses were a result of flooding in New Orleans. University of North Texas Profession Bernard Weinstein put the total economic impact at $250 billion.
03Hurricane Harvey - $125 Billion
Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm that hit Texas on August 25, 2017. It caused $125 billion in damage. It affected 13 million people from Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. As of September 9, 2017, 70 people have died.
04Hurricane Maria - $90 Billion
05Hurricane Irma - $50 Billion
Hurricane Irma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. It was a Category 5 storm when it made landfall on Barbuda on September 6, 2017. Its winds were 185 miles per hour for 37 hours. That's longer than any storm ever recorded. It hit southern Florida on September 10, inflicting $50 billion in damage. If it had hit Miami instead, the damage would have totaled $300 billion.
06Hurricane Sandy - $65 Billion
Most of the damage was because of 12 1/2 foot storm surges. It damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes and eight million customers lost power. It closed the NYSE for the first time in 27 years. The New Jersey electronic exchanges closed for two days. The storm killed 159 people either directly or indirectly.
07Hurricane Ike - $30 Billion
Hurricane Ike cost $30 billion or $34.8 billion in 2018 dollars. It damaged pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed 10 Gulf offshore oil rigs. All 22 Texas land-based oil refineries were shut down. This part of Texas is home to a quarter of U.S. crude oil and refinery production. As a result, gas prices spiked to $5 a gallon, prompting the government to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserves.
08Hurricanes Andrew Through Allison
Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 storm that hit Florida in 1992. It destroyed $26.5 billion in property or $47.8 billion in 2018 dollars. Its record 16.9-foot storm tide flooded Biscayne Bay.
Hurricane Ivan hit Alabama and Florida in 2004. This Category 3 storm caused $20.5 billion in damage.
Hurricane Wilma was a Category 3 storm that did $24.3 billion in damage in today's dollars. It pummeled Florida in 2005 with winds as high as 120 miles per hour.
Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana and Texas in 2005. The Category 3 storm damaged $18.5 billion in property.
Hurricane Charley was a Category 4 storm when it hit Florida in 2004. It damaged $16 billion in property.
Hurricane Irene was a Category 2 storm when it hit North Carolina on August 26, 2011. Irene killed at least 20 people and left 4.5 million people without power. Property damage was $13.8 billion. University of Maryland economist Peter Morici estimated total economic impact at $45 billion.
Hurricane Matthew left $10 billion in damage when it hit in 2016. It was a Category 1 storm that hit the southeastern United States.
Hurricane Frances was a Category 2 storm that left $9.8 billion in damage. It hit Florida in 2004.
09Haiti Earthquake - $8.5 Billion
Between 200,000-250,000 people were killed by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that ravaged Haiti in January 2010. That was 2 percent of the total Haitian population of 10 million. The Inter-American Development Bank estimated that it cost $8.5 billion in damage to Haiti's economy. The earthquake caused the country's GDP to contract 5.1 percent that year.
10Tornado Outbreak - $5 Billion
The largest tornado outbreak in U.S. history occurred April 25-27, 2011. In that week, 305 twisters damaged the Southeast, breaking the 1974 record of 267 tornadoes. The outbreak caused $5 billion in damage. One single tornado in 1999 cost $1 billion alone. Although experts disagree, there is reason to believe these expensive outbreaks will get worse.
11Iceland Volcano - $5 Billion
Volcanic clouds and ash from the May 21, 2011, eruption in Iceland threatened air traffic in Scotland, Ireland, France and other hubs in the northern European Union. Even though the Grimsvotn volcanic eruption was bigger than the previous year's, it wasn't as destructive economically. That's because the ash wasn't as dense, and dispersed more easily.
Iceland's 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption closed European airports for six days, costing airlines $200 million a day. They were not insured for this type of loss.
Iceland's volcanic eruptions threatens the travel industry. It contributes $1 trillion to the European economy annually. The 2010 eruption cost the travel industry $5 billion to $10 billion a week. When air traffic in Europe slows, it threatens more than just passengers. Up to 40 percent of the world's goods by value moves by air. Drug companies, time-sensitive high-tech imports, and premium products such as fine Scotch whiskeys all sit on the tarmacs when airports are closed.
12U.S. Wildfires - $2.5 Billion
In 2017, the U.S. Forest Service spent almost $2.5 billion on fighting wildfires. It was the most destructive in recent history, burning 9.1 million acres. The other areas at risk are forests in Canada, Scandinavia, and Russia.
13Mississippi River Floods - $2 Billion
The 2011 Mississippi River flood was a 500-year event. Total economic damage was $2 billion. What made it so damagin? The Mississippi River runs past farmlands and cities in six states.
14The Dust Bowl - $1 Billion
The Dust Bowl was an area in the Midwest demolished by a 1930s drought. It was the worst drought in North America in 300 years.
Weather patterns over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans had shifted. The Pacific grew cooler and the Atlantic became warmer. That weakened and changed the direction of the jet stream. When the jet stream moved south, rain from the Gulf of Mexico never reached the Great Plains.
The resultant drought killed crops that normally kept the soil in place. Winds blew raised enormous clouds of dust. It deposited mounds of dirt on everything, even covering houses. The dust destroyed a large part of U.S. agricultural production. That worsened the Great Depression.
The 1918 influenza pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide in a year. One out of five or 500 million people got sick. In the United States, one out of four got sick. Of those, 675,000 died, or 0.9 percent of the population. It hit young men the worst, causing the loss of breadwinners. Scientists had not yet discovered viruses, so there was no prevention or treatment.
In some cities, like Philadelphia, bodies lay along the streets and in morgues for days. In cities like Little Rock, commerce declined 40 to 70 percent. Mines and factories closed due to a shortage of able workers.
Only the Black Death killed more people. Over 10 years, 60 million people died from Bubonic Plague. The death of one third of the population changed the European economy from feudal to monarchy.
It was caused during World War I. Massive troop movements and close living quarters spread the disease. The H1N1 virus continued to circulate as a seasonal virus worldwide for the next 38 years.
According to the World Bank, a recurrence today would cost $800 billion and kill tens-of-millions of people. U.S. deaths could reach 207,000 and cost $166 billion, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the long-term, a pandemic could kill 1.9 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
16How Global Warming Increases Natural Disasters
Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters. Between 1956-2005, the Earth's average temperature rose 0.13 degrees Celsius each decade. This might not seem like much, but that's double the rate for the 100 years between 1906 to 2005. Antarctic glaciers are losing mass at an "unusually rapid" rate. Satellite pictures taken between 1992 and 1996 showed that the Pine Island Glacier was losing mass at a rate 42 times faster than the average over the preceding 5,000 years.
Higher temperatures are causing loss of timber thanks to the bark beetle, and more chaotic weather patterns. The result? More frequent and severe natural disasters.
Natural Disasters' Economic Impact
Natural Disasters Are a Bigger Threat Than Terrorism
In 2017, natural disasters cost the U.S. economy a record $307 billion. Wildfires and hurricanes set new damage records. There were 16 events that cost more than $1 billion each. These disasters also include heat waves, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and tsunamis. In the short term, they cost homeowners and insurance companies billions. They raise food and gas prices.
In the long term, the largest disasters slow regional economic growth for decades. Bridges, roads, and utilities are destroyed. Homeowners who aren't covered by insurance go bankrupt. Many can't rebuild and must move elsewhere.
The U.S. president can declare a state of emergency for communities overwhelmed by a natural disaster. That action releases a wide range of federal aid to individuals, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies. Each type of disaster triggers different kinds of federal assistance.
Global warming increases natural disasters. The United Nations Refugee Agency found that the number of natural disasters has doubled in the last 20 years. The impact on productivity can last decades after an event. One reason is that between 30 to 60 percent of disaster survivors experience post-traumatic stress disorder.
Listed below are 20 of the most destructive natural disasters.