Most costly natural disasters

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that weather and climate disasters in the U.S. have caused over $2.085 trillion in damages since 1980. Roughly 53 events happen each year, causing an average of $49.7 billion. While the economic damage alone is staggering, the damage on an individual scale is no less devastating.

As a homeowner, natural disasters can be financially devastating without proper home insurance coverage, but understanding which kind of insurance protection is necessary isn’t always easy. Bankrate can help you understand which natural disasters have caused the most damage and what you can do to prepare, including how to know what your home insurance company might cover.

The damage caused to homes by natural disasters

Every weather event comes with its own set of risks to homeowners. Some of the risks associated with natural disasters might be avoidable with the right preparations, while others require specific insurance to protect the homeowner.

  • Flooding: Flooding can cause water damage to a home and any personal possessions inside.
  • Earthquakes: Earthquake tremors and shocks can cause structural and foundational damage to homes.
  • Wildfire: Wildfires can cause extensive fire damage to a home, and smoke damage can also be an issue.
  • Hurricane: Hurricanes carry the risk of wind damage and flooding, which can cause substantial and costly damage to homes.
  • Tornado: Wind damage is the primary concern with tornadic activity, but falling objects can also damage the home.

The worst natural disasters in U.S. history

The Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) lists the 10 costliest catastrophes in the U.S. based on property losses, excluding damages covered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Eight of the 10 catastrophes were hurricanes, one was an earthquake and one was a drought. Loss amounts have been adjusted for inflation.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. Louisiana suffered the worst impact, but the hurricane also affected Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. Adjusted for inflation, Katrina caused over $86 billion in damages, making it the costliest weather event in U.S. history.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy impacted multiple states on the Eastern seaboard in October 2012, causing nearly $34 billion in damages.

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey struck Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas in August 2017 and caused almost $32 billion in damages.

Hurricane Irma

Like Maria, Hurricane Irma also hit in September 2017. Irma affected Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Triple-I estimates that, in 2020 dollars, the storm caused $31.8 billion in damages.

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria impacted the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in September 2017. Damages from the storm cost just over $31 billion.

Hurricane Andrew

Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and Louisiana in August 1992, causing almost $30 billion in damage in 2020 dollars.

Northridge, CA Earthquake

The most expensive earthquake in U.S. history hit Northridge, California, on January 17, 1994. The quake caused over $27 billion in damages

Hurricane Ike

In September 2008, Hurricane Ike struck Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. The damages from Ike total over $21 billion.

2012 drought

Much of the U.S. experienced extreme drought in 2012, causing crop failure, increasing the wildfire risk and sparking fears about the state of the economy. All told, the drought caused over $16 billion in damages.

Hurricane Wilma

Wilma struck Florida in October 2005. Despite only hitting one state, the storm caused just over $14 billion in damage in the U.S. alone.

What your insurance covers during natural disasters

Homeowners insurance policies typically cover the structure of your home, detached structures and your personal belongings, as well as your liability exposure. But the types of weather events covered by your policy depend on the type of home insurance that you have, as well as the optional coverage types, exclusions and additional policies you may have purchased.

When it comes to insured losses, every policy and region of the country is different. Especially if you live in an area at greater-than-average risk for certain disasters, that kind of damage may be excluded from your home insurance. You might need a separate endorsement or policy to get coverage. Checking with your insurance carrier to see what your policy covers or speaking with a licensed insurance professional to determine what coverage is needed may help you better understand how your policy would respond to a given weather event.

Below are some examples of common damage caused by weather events and an explanation of how standard home insurance responds:

  • Flooding: Although water damage from plumbing issues is generally covered by standard home insurance, flooding is not. Flood coverage requires a separate policy from the NFIP or a private insurance carrier. Keep in mind that most flood policies have a waiting period and will not immediately take effect, so it’s best not to wait until a storm is coming to purchase this kind of insurance. Most flood policies also require full payment upfront.
  • Earthquake: Damage caused by shocks or tremors from earthquakes is generally excluded from home insurance policies. If you want earthquake coverage, you’ll need to purchase an endorsement or, if you live in a high-risk area, a specialized earthquake insurance policy.
  • Wildfire: Standard home insurance policies usually cover damage from wildfires. However, people who live in an area prone to wildfires may need to purchase additional coverage or a separate policy.
  • Hurricane: Wind damage and flooding are the two main risks to a home from a hurricane, although you may be able to minimize the damage. Flood coverage is excluded from home insurance, but protection from wind damage may be covered unless it’s a coastal region. Check your policy or speak with a licensed insurance professional to see what’s covered.
  • Tornado: The main danger posed by tornadoes is wind damage, a covered peril in most home insurance policies. Tornadoes also often spawn hailstorms, which are typically covered as well, and falling objects or trees that damage your home are also likely covered. However, if you live in a high-risk area, you may want to discuss your coverage with an agent to make sure you understand what your policy does and doesn’t include.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best home insurance company?

The best home insurance company depends on the needs of the homeowner. To find an affordable home insurance policy that will fit your needs, we recommend gathering quotes from a few different insurers and comparing them.

Where can I find flood insurance?

Flood coverage is generally excluded from standard home insurance policies but can be purchased from the NFIP or a private insurance carrier.

How can I tell which perils are covered in my home insurance policy?

Not all home insurance policies provide protection for all the perils a homeowner might face. To determine which perils are covered, check out the documents that came with your home insurance policy or speak with a licensed insurance professional.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Writer & Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional with over a decade of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed insurance agent.
Edited by
Insurance Editor