Best States for Avoiding Expensive Weather Disasters

Greg Walker pulls a woman, who wished not to be identified, with his canoe north on Winnikee Ave. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. after the Fallkill Creek flooded large areas in the north side of the city Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. (Spencer Ainsley/AP Photo)

The damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene is expected to reach $7.2 billion across eight states and Washington, D.C., with $1 billion estimates for New York State alone, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

If this grim news has left you wondering which states are least likely to have expensive weather-related disasters, recent data suggests your best chance of avoiding them requires leaving the mainland for either Alaska or Hawaii.

According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), between 1980 and 2010, Hawaii and Alaska had the fewest costly weather-related catastrophes.

The NCDC only tallied disasters producing damage estimates totaling more than $1 billion, including insured and uninsured losses.

Adam Smith, a physical scientist who played a key role in integrating the different data sets used in the NCDC report, is putting a new map on the website this afternoon, which will reflect 2011 data.

“The new map that incorporates the 10 events from this year still shows the South and Southeast have the highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters,” Smith said.

He cautioned one ‘event’ can affect several different states, so a weather disaster tallied in one state might be the same as the weather disaster tallied in another state.

In Alaska, wildfires spurred by drought during 2006, 2007 and 2008 took their toll, and in Hawaii, during September1992, a Category 4 hurricane hit the Hawaiian island of Kauai resulting in 7 deaths.

Of course, in both states you may still have to contend with earthquakes. Alaska has had more earthquakes than any other state according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and Hawaii ranks third.

On the continental United States, Michigan, Maine and Vermont have had the fewest expensive weather-related disasters. But as hurricane Irene demonstrated, recent severe flooding in Vermont suggests nothing can be taken for granted, especially as new, extreme weather patterns continue to develop.

Regardless, Smith said, the coasts — particularly in the South — will continue to experience some of the biggest weather-related losses.

“Over last several decades more people have been moving to the coast in the U.S. so that has implications for hurricanes in the South and Southeast,” Smith said.

The states with the most weather-related disasters topping more than $1 billion are Texas, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, which each had at least 31 expensive events in the past 30 years.

So why have some states had more expensive disasters than others? They may be more populated, which means more rebuilding has to be done in the face of damaging weather. In addition, certain areas are simply prone to severe weather.

“It’s as much of a spatial and population issue as it is the amount of events that are experienced,” Smith said.

Alaska and Hawaii, for example, are “not populated densely like a lot of the other states are, particularly in the deep South, Northeast and California,” Smith said.  ”And also they don’t experience tornadoes, which can cause havoc.”

So far this year, NOAA reports the United States has had 10 disasters that have each totaled at least $1 billion in losses, topping the record set in 2008.

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