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Louisiana is the most impacted state by costly natural disasters since 1980, says NOAA

Carly Berlin
Damages around Gretna after severe weather and tornados swept through the area in December.

Extreme weather events have cost the nation nearly $2.5 trillion since 1980, with Louisiana on top as the most impacted state by billion-dollar natural disasters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Texas, Florida and Louisiana lead as the top three most impacted states since 1980 due to billion dollar disasters at $380 billion, at $370 billion and at $290 billion respectively.

But Louisiana’s smaller population and economy leaves the state feeling a greater impact from those costs compared to Texas and Florida, according to NOAA scientist Adam Smith.

National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)
From 1980 to 2022, the U.S. South, Central and Southeast regions have experienced higher costs from billion-dollar disaster events.

The U.S. has experienced 341 weather and climate disasters since 1980, and overall damages reached or exceeded $1 billion for each hazard. The death toll in that time has reached 15,821 people across the country.

Smith was joined by scientist Karin Gleason and NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad during the annual 103rd American Meteorologist Society Meeting on Monday and Tuesday to share their report of U.S. climate trends and disasters in 2022. Their main point they shared: this trend of big, costly weather events is expected to continue.

“People are seeing the impacts of a changing climate system where they live, work and play on a regular basis. With a changing climate, buckle up. More extreme events are expected,” Spinrad said.

Their report also focused on Louisiana, which suffers from a high frequency of disaster events that escalate and build the cost of damages on top of each other.

“If you scale this proportional to population, you can see how Louisiana has the most acute impacts in terms of these extremes on lives and livelihoods,” Smith said.

He pointed to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in 2022 and Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020 that set back recovery efforts in Florida and Louisiana.

“Tighter space and time between these hazards leads to these disasters being more costly, have slower recovery and even more challenges,” Smith said.

In 2022, the U.S. experienced 18 billion-dollar weather disasters and at least 474 deaths associated with these events. Clocking in at $165 billion in extreme weather event costs, 2022 was the third costliest year after 2017 and 2005, according to NOAA.

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)
Map of the 18 different billion dollar weather and climate disasters that occurred in 2022.

Smith said officials haven’t totaled the damages from December’s winter storm, which could push the amount to $170 billion.

Though 14 named storms formed in the North Atlantic Basin and contributed to that damage cost figure, none of them hit Louisiana. But the Pelican State experienced other extreme weather hazards, such as tornadoes and freezes.

According to NOAA, the preliminary U.S. tornado count for 2022 was 1,331 tornadoes. In March, officials recorded triple the average number of twisters at 293 — the most recorded in any March since 1950. Louisiana is no exception, with strong tornadoes touching down in the state and causing damage in March and December.

Gleason said scientists are hoping to stay flexible and work to track other hazards, such as an extended hurricane season, and take into consideration how tornado activity has shifted more southeast in the country.

“In a changing climate, we are updating our climatology, and we’ll be helping to articulate that going forward,” Gleason said.

Kezia Setyawan is a coastal reporter for WWNO and WRKF and is based out of Houma.