Worst Natural Disaster In Each State, Because You Can Never Be Too Prepared
Global warming is changing the entire landscape of the country and the world at large. For example, climate change has been devastating to California, a state with the perfect storm of dryness thanks to a historic drought. The severe lack of water has culminated in a series of forest fires that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres just this year. It's not just wildfires that threaten the Golden State, but the perpetual murmur of earthquakes as well. The natural disaster most likely to strike your state may range from wildfires to hurricanes or tornadoes, but there's no question the entire country has seen climate change dramatically change its weather and landscape.
A recent study based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data shows that the safest place to live to avoid a natural disaster is actually Montana's Sweet Grass County, located just 160 miles southeast of the capital Helena. Conversely, the most dangerous county to live in happens to be Ocean County, N.J. Nestled right along the Jersey Shore, Ocean County offers little in terms of a buffer for severe weather and hurricanes, most recently sustaining massive damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a storm that displaced as many as 26,000 people in Ocean County alone.
But every state is different, so let's see what natural disaster most affects where you live.
Alabama — Tornadoes
Tornadoes have become particularly prevalent in Alabama, most notably during the summer of 2011 when a massive outbreak saw the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham area destroyed within the span of just three days, to say nothing of the rampant tornadoes that popped up across the state. The outbreak was one of the deadliest incidents in the country and amounted to nearly $11 billion in damage being sustained.
Alaska — Wildfires
Chances are, you've seen the worst of Alaska's primary natural disaster in action for quite some time this year. Wildfires are popping up all across the state and don't show any signs of stopping. Nearly 5 million acres have been charred by more than 700 fires wreaking havoc throughout the state this year. The number of active fires has luckily reduced to 193, though some of the worst fires have been burning for almost a month straight despite rescue efforts to extinguish them.
Arizona — Wildfires
Arizona's dry desert climate makes it perfect to sustain wildfires, which emergency personnel are currently battling with in a whole host of forests, including Prescott National Forest, Kaibab National Forest, and Coronado National Forest. So far, more than 50,000 acres have been scorched by active wildfires in the state. Though it's nothing compared to what the state of Alaska is currently going through, the amount of fires in Arizona is still substantial.
Arkansas — Tornadoes
This year is seeing a historic number of tornadoes in Arkansas where there has been an average of 27 tornadoes per year, from 1950 to just last year, according to the Tornado History Project. During May of this year, a particularly brutal series of twisters rolled through Arkansas and Texas, killing five and injuring dozens.
California — Earthquakes
No matter how overwhelming California's wildfires may be, it's nothing compared to the rampant earthquakes shaking the state. California's unique system of faults allows for a diverse ecosystem of mountains, forests, and beaches but also carries the risk of devastating tremors. Earthquake Track, which measures daily information about earthquakes, puts the daily number of earthquakes at 11.
Colorado — Wildfires
Wildfires are so frequent in Colorado that an entire tag has been devoted to them on The Denver Post's website. Likewise, Denver's CBS affiliate offers a similar section with an overabundance of coverage on statewide blazes burning through Colorado. Currently there are just two fires burning, though there was previously as many as 34 fires.
Connecticut — Snowstorms
Connecticut's harsh winters have made for a particularly brutal mix of Nor'easter storms and blizzards, effectively shutting down the state year in and year out as the season ramps up in severity. The Hartford Courant's list of historic storms in the state shows a marked increase in incidents since the new millennium.
Delaware — Snowstorms/Hurricanes
Much like Connecticut, Delaware's northeast coast status makes it highly susceptible to severe winter weather. Its position on the coast also puts it at risk of incurring more hurricane damage — especially when it comes to flooding — thus both storms pose a risk of being frequent natural disasters.
Florida — Hurricanes
In a 2013 NBC News article on the 10 most disaster-prone states, Florida ranked right in the middle at No. 5. In 50 years, the Sunshine State has declared a state of emergency a staggering 65 times given the many hurricanes whose paths directly coincide with it. The effects of climate change have also negatively contributed to Florida's winter temperatures and the state has been racked with freezes year in and year out.
Georgia — Tornadoes
Though nestled right on the Atlantic, it's rare that Georgia directly gets hit by tropical storms and hurricanes. Instead, the natural disaster to watch out for are tornadoes. A staggering 1,486 tornadoes have been reported from 1950 to 2014, adding up to an average of 23 tornadoes a year.
Hawaii — Hurricanes
It's rare that a hurricane disrupts Hawaiian life but even rarer for a volcanic event to culminate in a state of a emergency. Thus, hurricanes pose the most immediate natural disaster threat in the Aloha State.
Idaho — Wildfires / Flooding
According to Idaho's Bureau of Homeland Security, the most pressing natural disaster to affect the state are wildfires, though flooding is a close second. Compared to many other states, Idaho is a fairly safe place and has only declared a state of emergency in the face of natural disasters 23 times.
Illinois — Tornadoes
Tornados are incredibly prevalent in Illinois. As recently as July, clusters of powerful tornadoes have been wreaking havoc on the state. Six such twisters blew through the towns of Cameron and Delavan, causing two injuries and resulting in massive amounts of structural damage. Cumulative stats from the Tornado History Project pegs the overall amount between 1950 and last October at a staggering 2,305.
Indiana — Tornadoes
The neighboring state of Indiana is just as susceptible to mass amounts of tornadoes, though the Tornado History Project reports a cumulative number of tornados to hit the state over the last 64 years at 1,393. The worst outbreak to hit the state spanned Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin as well. Known as the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, the storm resulted in 1,200 injuries in Indiana alone and was the largest such event the state has ever seen.
Iowa — Tornadoes
According to the National Weather Service, Iowa sees an average of 46 tornadoes per year roll through its state. Though this year has been relatively mild with just 30 tornadoes hitting the state, such events are the most prevalent natural disasters in Iowa.
Kansas — Tornadoes
Kansas is notorious for its rampant tornadoes. Nestled in a part of the country known as tornado alley, the region is one of the most active for such natural disasters in the world. A staggering 3,927 tornadoes have blown through Kansas from 1950 to 2014. According to the National Weather Service, the late '90s saw a marked uptick in tornado occurrences, culminating in more than 180 sweeping through the state in 2008. That annual number has since declined substantially, though Kansas ranks third in terms of most tornadoes per 100 square miles with a rate of 4.4.
Kentucky — Tornadoes
Though certainly not as frequent, the tornadoes in Kentucky have done some serious damage across the Bluegrass State. During the 1974 Super Outbreak, in which 13 states were affected by rampant tornadoes, Kentucky sustained one of the largest twisters. A F5 — the highest tornado rating based off a 0-5 scale — blew through Brandenburg on April 3, 1974, killing 31 and injuring 150. Cumulatively, the state amassed $110 million in damages caused by 26 different tornadoes that killed 77 people and injured 1,377 total.
Louisiana — Hurricanes
Hurricanes are incredibly prevalent in the Gulf South. The most infamous storm that sticks out in the country's mind is Hurricane Katrina, which happened a full decade ago and saw the destruction of New Orleans accelerated by breaches in the levee system protecting the city. Surprisingly, Katrina isn't the most destructive storm in U.S. history. According to Geology.com, Katrina is the third most damaging, following by yet another notorious storm — the Louisiana Hurricane of 1893. Frequently referred to as the Cheniere Hurricane, this category four storm completely leveled the humble fishing community of Caminadaville.
Maine — Summer Storms
Hurricanes are a relatively rare occurrence in Maine due to its northern location and cooler waters, which swiftly weakens storms. The state does, however, experience extreme summer storms that include torrential downpours, massive amounts of thunder and lightning, and flooding, which has occurred far earlier than the summer months. The deadliest floods in the state's history, oddly enough, took place on April Fool's Day in 1987. Maine sustained more than $100 million worth of damage after heavy rainfall and a melting snowpack inundated nearly every single county in the state.
Maryland — Hurricanes
Climate change has made for a perfect storm of circumstances, allowing for more hurricanes than ever in Maryland, it seems. According to a special section of ClimateChange.gov specifically reserved for the state of Maryland, global warming's rising sea levels and increase in temperatures has made it so hurricanes can thrive in the region. That fact has never been more apparent than during the early 2000s, when five hurricanes hit Maryland between 2003 and 2006; the most damaging being 2003's Hurricane Isabel. Though it killed just one person, Hurricane Isabel wreaked enough havoc to cost the state of Maryland $945 million in damages.
Massachusetts — Blizzards
It's easy to see why blizzards are the most prevalent natural disaster in Massachusetts given the fact that the sixth worst storm hit the Bay State earlier this year. The January 26-27 blizzard saw well over two feet of snow dropped upon the state. Worcester was the most inundated, with 34.5 inches of snow. A state of emergency was declared throughout the East Coast, along with travel bans.
Michigan — Tornadoes
Though the frequency of tornadoes in Michigan is nothing compared to many other states, according to MLive's Mark Torregrossa, the state has three of its own smaller tornado alleys scattered in west to east patterns across main portion of the state. The most recent cluster of tornadoes to hit Michigan occurred in June of this year. The five tornadoes caused minor damage as well as just three injuries and no fatalities.
Minnesota — Tornadoes
Minnesota sits at the northernmost point of tornado alley and the rate of twisters from 1950 to 2014 certainly reflects that. There have been 1,685 tornadoes within that time frame and none were as devastating as the 1965 outbreak in and around the Twin Cities that killed 13 and injured 683. To date, it's the costliest such event in state history and the only storm with four powerful F4 tornadoes touching down in Minnesota on the same day.
Mississippi — Hurricanes
Mississippi's location puts it in prime position to feel the many negative effects of hurricanes hitting in and around the region. The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history — the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 — caused severe damage along the Mississippi coast, as did Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
Missouri — Tornadoes
Some of the deadliest tornadoes to strike the country have wreaked havoc through Missouri. Six such twisters have accounted for hundreds of deaths over the course of 131 years, from 1880 to 2011. The worst to strike Missouri was also the largest in tornado to hit the states — the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which ripped through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. On average, 34 tornadoes hit the state annually culminating in approximately seven deaths per year.
Montana — Floods
Montana has a wide variety of hazards working against it to account for flooding. Be it rapid snow melts or rising waters brought on by severe rainfall, flooding is one of the most severe weather events to regularly occur in the Treasure State. The incident that stands out the most is the 1964 flood that inundated the northwestern portion of the state, destroying thousands of acres of farming and irrigation and killing 30 people.
Nebraska — Tornadoes
The majority of Nebraska sits in tornado alley and its frequent tornadoes certainly reflect its vulnerable status. Tornadoes are so ubiquitous that the National Weather Service has a full top ten list of deadliest twisters in the state, the worst being a 1913 outbreak that destroyed 600 homes, damaged 1,100 more, and killed nearly 100 people.
Nevada — Earthquakes
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Nevada's fault lines are incredibly active, to the point that more than 4,200 earthquakes have been reported over the past year alone. The highest magnitude earthquake to hit the state occurred in a series of three in 1915. The largest tremor was around 7.75 magnitude — enough to be felt from San Diego all the way up to Baker, Ore.
New Hampshire — Floods
The New Hampshire Department of Safety rates flooding as the most commonly occurring natural disaster in the state, with waters inundating the state annually. The worst floods to hit the state were two vastly different events in 1936 and 1938. The earlier flood came about from a particularly brutal winter in which precipitation and snow melting made for a massive amount of water while the 1938 flood was caused by a hurricane. As many as 200 people died in what became known as the Flood of March 1936.
New Jersey — Blizzards
Winters are incredibly harsh in New Jersey and some of the worst blizzards in the country have occurred there. Three such events made LiveScience's top 10, including the 2010 Snowmadggedon that broke snowfall records across the East and mid-Atlantic.
New Mexico — Wildfires
Given its relatively dry, desert climate, wildfires are incredibly prevalent in New Mexico. The largest blaze to hit the state occurred in 2012 and affected more than 214,000 acres of land, prompting 1,200 emergency and firefighter personnel to respond and attempt to contain it.
New York — Blizzards
New York faces many of the same issues as New Jersey when it comes to natural disasters. The state also fell in the path of 2012's "Snowmageddon," with more than 20 inches of snow hitting New York City in just one evening. The storm was so severe that it prompted the implementation of an entirely new emergency alert system.
North Carolina — Hurricanes
North Carolina is one of three states leading the nation in terms of regular hurricane occurrences. According to the State Climate Office of North Carolina, there have been 362 tropical cyclones ranging from tropical depressions to full-blown hurricanes that have affected the state from 1851 to 2014. The most destructive hurricane to hit the state was 1999's Hurricane Floyd, which caused $6 billion worth of damage, destroyed 8,000 homes, and killed 52 people.
North Dakota — Blizzards
North Dakota's winters are so severe that an annual Severe Winter Weather Awareness Week is observed to help residents better prepare for such events. The most legendary blizzard to hit the state was the 1966 Blizzard that obliterated the open range cattle industry and killed 112 people. More than 74,000 cows were lost to record snowfall and frigid temperatures.
Ohio — Tornadoes
Ohio not only sits near tornado alley but may very well have its own subsections located in the northern portion of the state. The state has had 1,021 tornadoes touch down from 1950 to 2014, making for an annual rate of a little over 16 per year. The deadliest tornado to hit the state occurred in 1924 in Lorain, killing 85 people and destroying more than 100 homes.
Oklahoma — Tornadoes
Oklahoma sits in the heart of tornado alley and has had more than 3,500 hit the state from 1950 to 2014. Extensive data has been compiled about Oklahoma tornadoes dating as far back as 1875. The National Weather Service ranks the massive F5 1947 Woodward tornado as the deadliest, killing 116 people and injuring 782.
Oregon — Floods
Oregon's historic floods are the stuff of legends, obliterating entire cities and making three of the Western Regional Climate Center's 10 worst weather events in state history since 1900. The worst natural disaster in that time period was a flash flood that occurred in 1903 and drowned over 200 people and destroyed over 150 homes.
Pennsylvania — Blizzards
Pennsylvania regularly experiences severe winters and has fallen directly in the path of widespread blizzards similar to New York and New Jersey. One of the worst blizzards to hit the state occurred in 1996 and cost the state more than $1 billion in damages.
Rhode Island — Hurricanes
Surprisingly, Rhode Island ranks in the top two of states facing high property damage and destruction from natural disasters. Given its extreme winters and coastal location, Rhode Island is susceptible to both frigid winters and brutal summers. There's been a recent uptick in tropical storms and hurricanes, however, putting the state at higher risk of summer disasters than any other event. The worst hurricane to hit Rhode Island was the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which actually surged and worsened as it hit the state.
South Carolina — Tornadoes
Despite being nestled along the Atlantic coast, it's incredibly rare that South Carolina is affected by hurricanes. Tornadoes are far more frequent, with 940 being reported between 1950 and 2014. According to a 2012 National Weather Service report, the Palmetto State ranked in the top 10 of most tornado-prone states, with nearly nine twisters touching down per 10,000 miles.
South Dakota — Tornadoes
Despite extreme winter weather similar to North Dakota, South Dakota has had a dizzying amount of tornadoes blow through the state, with 1,731 touching down from 1950 to 2014. One of the most recent twisters to occur was an EF-2 twister that severely damaged the town of Delmont earlier this year, displacing half of the town's residents and completely knocking out its power.
Tennessee — Tornadoes
Though Tennessee falls slightly to the east of tornado alley, it is highly susceptible to tornadoes. From 1950 to 2014, 1,148 twisters have blown through the state. A massive F4 tornado traveled over 200 miles from the Volunteer State to the middle of Mississippi in 1971, making it one of the longest, most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history.
Texas — Tornadoes
The sheer amount of tornadoes occurring in Texas from 1950 to 2014 has the state averaging over 128 tornadoes per year for a total of 8,247. The worst tornado to hit the Lone Star State occurred in 1953 in Waco, killing 114 people, injuring 597, and destroying 600 homes, as well as damaging over 1,000 structures.
Utah — Earthquakes
Earthquakes are fairly prevalent in Utah, with more than 360 having occurred over the past year. The largest earthquake in the state, which occurred in 1934 in Hansel Valley, surprisingly did little in terms of damage due to its desolate epicenter but managed to affect a full 169 square miles based off its 6.6 magnitude.
Vermont — Floods
Floods are a regular occurrence in Vermont, though their impact is rarely devastating. The floods that have severely damaged the Green Mountain State have leveled towns and completely altered the ecosystem, however. The worst flood to hit the state occurred in 1927 and managed to wash away 1,200 bridges and kill 84 people.
Virginia — Floods
Flooding is frequent in Virginia for a wide variety of reasons ranging from its coastal status to its harsh winters that make for massive snow melts. The worst flood to hit Virginia came about due to Hurricane Agnes in 1972, which didn't directly hit the state but caused enough rainfall to overwhelm the James and the Dan rivers, in addition to many other rivers across the state. The floods caused $222 million in damages and killed 13 people.
Washington State — Wildfires
Wildfires are one of the most devastating natural disasters out there and frequently occur in Washington. The largest wildfire in Washington state history is currently being battled by over 1,200 firefighters. As of this writing more than 305,000 acres have been consumed by the flames.
Washington, D.C. — Blizzards
The nation's capital may have hot and humid summers, but it's the severe winter weather that puts the region most at risk. Wide-spread blizzards, including Snowmageddon and Snowcalypse have generated massive amounts of snowfall and harsh temperatures in Washington, D.C. One of the worst blizzards to hit the city was the Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899, which saw temperatures fall to -20 and 14 inches of snow to fall in a single evening.
West Virginia — Floods
The most common natural disaster to hit West Virginia is flooding, the most recent severe event occurring in 1996 following major snow melt and rapid rainfall. The flood severely damaged the town of Marlinton, which was inundated with water albeit briefly due to flash flooding.
Wisconsin — Tornadoes
Wisconsin is yet another state to have its own smaller tornado alleys throughout its expanse. The state has seen 1,306 tornadoes between 1950 and 2014, the worst being the New Richmond tornado of 1899. The massive F5 twister killed 117 and injured 150 in addition to destroying over 300 buildings.
Wyoming — Landslides
The most devastating and common natural disasters to occur in Wyoming are landslides, the worst being the fast-moving Gros Ventre landslide. The landslide caused $500,000 worth of damage and almost completely took out the town of Kelly following a massive flood brought on by the disaster.