Hurricane Sandy is 11th Billion Dollar Weather-Extreme for U.S. in 2012, as Americans see 2nd Most Disastrous Year on Record

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With two months still left in 2012, the preliminary data indicate that the U.S. has thus far experienced eleven weather-related disasters each with damages of at least a billion dollars. Since 1980, only 2011 saw more billion-dollar weather disasters (14 in all), putting 2012 in second place.  With the drought and Hurricane Sandy likely to be among the costliest weather-related disasters on record (i.e. since 1980), 2012 also is likely to edge out 1988 as the second costliest year in terms of billion-dollar weather-extremes.

Above: Flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Sandy along the New Jersey coast, Oct. 30, 2012.  Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen.

Excluding this year's drought, the costs of which have not yet been reliably estimated, damages from the other eight events in 2012 are at least $52-$72 billion -- mostly from Hurricane Sandy ($30 billion-$50 billion).  See the table below.

Below: Severe weather events in 2012 with estimated damages of a billion or more dollars.



Name Or Type


Damage Estimates (USD)


2-3 March

Severe Weather

Midwest, Southeast

4+ billion


2-4 April

Severe Weather


1.3+ billion


13-15 April

Severe Weather

Plains, Midwest

1.75+ billion


28-29 April

Severe Weather


3.25+ billion


25-30 May

Severe Weather

Plains, Midwest, Northeast

2.5+ billion




United States

Tens of billions; no reliable estimate is yet available.


6-7 June

Severe Weather

Colorado, Wyoming

1.6+ billion


11-13 June

Severe Weather

Texas, New Mexico

1.75+ billion


28 June -2 July Severe Weather Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Plains 3.75+ billion


26-31 August Hurricane Isaac Gulf Coast 2+ billion



29 -30 October

Hurricane Sandy

Northeast U.S.

30-50 billion

        Total without drought: $52-72+ billion
Hurricane Sandy estimate is from Eqecat (Hurricane Sandy: Post-Landfall Loss Estimates for Superstorm Sandy Released, 1 November 2012). All other estimates are from Aon Benfield (September 2012 Global Catastrophe Recap, October 2012).


Though the damages this year from the ongoing drought cannot be fully assessed until after the end of the year, the drought likely will be one of the costliest disasters on record, adding tens of billions of dollars in damages to this year's tally; and probably making 2012 the second most costly year since 1980 in terms of billion-dollar weather-related disasters.  Some sense of the magnitude of the drought's impacts came in late October from the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce (Technical Note, Gross Domestic Product, Third Quarter of 2012 [Advance], October 26, 2012):

"While the drought could indirectly affect many components of GDP, such as personal consumption expenditures and exports, it is only possible to separately identify its effects on a few components, such as the change in farm inventories. The farm inventory investment estimates reflect the continuing effects of the drought on farm production (particularly for corn and soybeans)...In current dollars, the estimates indicate that the drought reduced farm inventory investment by $29 billion in the third quarter after reducing farm inventory investment by about $12 billion in the second quarter."

The last comparable drought in 1988 resulted in estimated damages of $77.6 billion (2012 dollars). While it was the only billion dollar disaster that year, it established 1988 as the second costliest year from 1980 through 2011 in terms of billion dollar weather-related disasters. 

Above: President Barack Obama talks with farmers during a tour of the McIntosh family farm to view the effects of the drought, in Missouri Valley, Iowa, Aug. 13, 2012. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, foreground, joins the President. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has listed the billion dollar weather-related disasters from 1980 through 2011, but has not updated the listing for 2012.  The year 2005 remains the costliest year, with $187.2 billion (2012 dollars) in damages (Hurricane Katrina alone accounted for $146.3 billion of that). 

Above: Weather extremes from 1980 through 2011 with estimated damages of one billion dollars (2012 dollars) or more.  The vertical bars show the number of events based on actual dollars (blue) and based on constant 2012 dollars (red).  There was a record of 14 billion-dollar weather extremes in 2011.  In second place are 1998, 2008 and now 2012 with 9 events each.  The total annual damages from the events is indicated by the blue line (actual dollars) and the red line (2012 dollars).  The costliest year has been 2005, with total damages of around $187.2 billion (2012 dollars).  Up until this year, the second costliest year was 1988, with estimated damages $77.6 billion (2012 dollars). However, once the full damages of this year's billion dollar weather extremes are fully assessed, 2012 may become the second costliest year on record.

Listed below are the top 5 costliest weather-related disasters from 1980 through 2011 (in 2012 dollars). Hurricane Sandy or the 2012 drought – or both – ultimately will be among the 5 costliest. 

  1. 2005 Hurricane Katrina $146.3 Billion
  2. 1988 Heat Wave/Drought $77.6 Billion
  3. 1980 Heat Wave/Drought $55.6 Billion
  4. 1992 Hurricane Andrew  $44.3 Billion
  5. 1993 Midwest Floods $33.4 Billion


Listed below are the top 3 costliest tropical storms from 1980 through 2011 (in 2012 dollars). With between $30-50 billion in damages, Hurricane Sandy will be the 2nd or 3rd costliest tropical storm since 1980  for the U.S.

  1. 2005 Hurricane Katrina $146.3 Billion
  2. 1992 Hurricane Andrew $44.3 Billion
  3. 2008 Hurricane Ike $28.9 Billion


Online Resources:

WWF Climate Blog

  • Sandy's Wake-up Call: The Future Is Here Early. Lou Leonard, 2 November 2012.  For the 50 million of us who stood in the path of Hurricane Sandy and the rest who watched its devastation, isn't it time to ask our leaders how we can avoid a future where Frankenstorms like Sandy become the new normal?  We need common-sense strategies to prepare our communities to withstand a future with rising seas and with storms, droughts and wildfires on steroids.  We also must quickly harness American ingenuity to build a world powered by carbon-free energy that will stop pumping steroids into our climate system and lessen future risks.  We must do both and Sandy has reminded us that there's no time to lose. The future is here, a little early.
  • Federal Report: Rising Seas and Climate Change Threaten Coasts, as Local Governments Shoulder Much of the Preparedness Burden. Nick  Sundt, 18 October 2012.  A new report on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability in coastal areas of the U.S. warns that coping with sea level rise and coastal disruption "will be a challenge for coastal economies that contributed $8.3 trillion to the GDP in 2011." It says that local governments will have to shoulder much of the burden of "making the critical, basic land-use and public investment decisions and ...working with community stakeholder groups to implement adaptive measures on the ground.
  • Federal Report Warns of Costly Impacts to U.S. Cities from Changing Weather Extremes.  By Nick Sundt, 22 May 2012.  A new report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory warns that urban areas in the U.S. "are vulnerable to extreme weather events that will become more intense, frequent, and/or longer-lasting with climate change." The authors say that the "true consequences of impacts and disruptions" associated with those events "involve not only the costs associated with the clean-up, repair, and/or replacement of affected infrastructures but also economic, social, and environmental effects as supply chains are disrupted, economic activities are suspended, and/or social well-being is threatened." They note that the risks "can be substantially reduced by developing and implementing appropriate adaptation strategies." 
  • As the Costs of Extreme Weather Rise, Americans Cannot Afford Denial.  By Nick Sundt, 9 September 2011. "As costly climate extremes exact a mounting toll on the U.S. economy and further strain the Federal budget, the path forward is clear: acknowledge and better understand the growing threat posed by climate variability and change, do what we can to slow climate change by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improve our weather forecasts and climate projections, and prepare ourselves for future impacts. Yet ideologues are pushing an opposite agenda: deny climate change and systematically eviscerate the Federal government’s efforts to address it. They are leaving Americans dangerously unprepared, saddled with the rapidly mounting costs of increasingly extreme weather. "
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