Despite Fewer Natural Disasters in 2015, Damaging Events Still Significant

January 29, 2016

A downward trend in U.S. natural hazard events in 2015 resulted in decreased damage and loss totals for the year, according to the latest CoreLogic Natural Hazard Risk Summary and Analysis report.

The annual report noted that despite the reduction in frequency, there were still record-setting events within the individual hazard categories that caused significant damage. The report reviews annual hazard activity in the U.S. including events for wildfire, flooding, hurricanes, wind, hail, tornadoes, earthquakes and sinkholes. Highlights from the analysis include:

  • Wildfire activity for 2015 was the worst in recorded history with over 3.5 million more acres burned in 2015 than the yearly average of 6,579,250 from the previous 15 years (2000-2014).
  • The three most destructive wildfires of 2015 include:
    *The Valley Fire in northern California which burned 76,000 acres and destroyed 1,307 homes with $925 million in insured losses.
    *The Butte Fire in northern California which burned 70,000 acres and destroyed 475 homes with $225 million in insured losses.
    *The Okanogan Complex Fire in north central Washington which burned 133,000 acres and destroyed 73 homes with $8 million in insured losses.
  • Before 2004, a single year of wildfires had never burned more than eight million acres. Since then, seven of the last 12 years (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2015) have surpassed eight million acres burned.

At $2.86 billion, total flood loss in 2015 was equivalent to that of 2014, but still well below the 30-year average of $7.96 billion.

  • Based on the snapshot statistics from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Event Database, property losses from flash flood events in the first nine months of 2015 were more than 15 percent higher than the losses from riverine floods.
  • For flash flood loss totals, Texas ranked first with property losses totaling more than $309 million. This was followed by New York with almost $14 million in property losses and Ohio with more than $7 million.
  • For riverine flood loss totals, Nebraska ranks first with property losses totaling more than $213 million. This was followed by Ohio with more than $13 million in property losses and West Virginia with more than $8 million.
  • South Carolina was hit with record-setting, 1,000-year rainfall fueled by Hurricane Joaquin which led to riverine and flash flooding in 22 counties and caused $1.5 billion worth of damage, including $587 million in agricultural losses, $181 million in insurance claims and $35 million in tourism losses.
Atlantic Hurricane
  • Hurricane activity in the Atlantic was below normal for 2015 with only 11 named storms, seven of which never grew stronger than a tropical storm. Of the four storms that were categorized as hurricanes, two were Category 1 and the other two grew into Major hurricanes: Danny, a Category 3, and Joaquin, a Category 4.
  • Even though no hurricanes made landfall in 2015 and no substantial wind or storm-surge damage occurred, storm-related precipitation from Tropical Storm Ana, Tropical Storm Bill and Hurricane Joaquin resulted in record-setting inland flooding.
  • Severe wind activity was relatively low in 2015 with only 0.2 percent of the continental U.S. affected by wind speeds of 80 mph or greater.
  • 2015 had the lowest number of annual recorded wind speeds of 65 mph or greater since 2006 when wind data collection began.
  • 1,584,102 square miles, or 31.5 percent, of the continental U.S. experienced wind events of 60 mph or greater in 2015.
  • Hail activity for 2015 was slightly above average with 369,691 square miles, or 7.4 percent, of the continental U.S. impacted by severe hail, defined as 1″ or greater.
  • On June 15, multiple storms produced large hail and heavy rainfall across the far southern and southwestern Chicago metro area. Giant hail was observed near Minooka, IL, and the biggest hail reported measured 4.75 inches — the largest documented hail stone in Illinois since at least 1961.
  • For hail sizes in which damage becomes prevalent – greater than 1.5″ – 2015 recorded the eighth lowest hail fall in the last 10 years.
  • Tornado activity was slightly above average in 2015 with 1,252 recorded tornadoes. This total includes the 948 tornadoes that have been verified through September 2015, as well as an additional 238 tornadoes preliminarily logged from October-December.
  • On April 9, 2015, an EF4 tornado travelled more than 30 miles through Rochelle and Fairdale, Ill., destroying scores of homes, killing two people and injuring multiple others.
  • With 76 confirmed tornadoes, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas experienced the most tornado activity in 2015. This is the most on record for North and Central Texas since 1950 when the National Weather Service began tracking tornado activity.
  • With a total of 1,196 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater, 2015 was characterized by a slightly higher-than-average number of earthquakes; however, none produced significant damage or losses.
  • Oklahoma experienced four times more earthquakes than both California and Oregon, two states that traditionally have the greatest seismic hazard activity in the U.S. Although earthquakes in Oklahoma occur more frequently, the majority are of smaller magnitude (M<4.0) than those in California.
  • There has been an increase in the number of earthquakes in the central U.S. caused by induced seismicity which is defined as not related to naturally occurring (tectonic) activity. Induced earthquakes in the U.S. can occur as a result of hydraulic fracturing or wastewater injection associated with natural gas exploration. This could explain why earthquake activity in Oklahoma, Kansas and northern Texas has increased in recent years.

NHR Sinkholes Table Sinkhole activity was low in 2015 with 2,206 new sinkhole events recorded across the U.S.

  • At the state level, Florida recorded the highest number of sinkhole events in 2015, with 2,206 new sinkholes added in 2015 for the top 10 counties in that state. The total number of sinkholes in the CoreLogic database for Florida is 28,159.
  • The low-level sinkhole activity for the year could be related to the absence of land-fall hurricanes. Land-fall hurricanes bring significant rain which increases erosion of the subsurface layers and increases sinkhole probability.

Source: CoreLogic

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