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Billion-dollar natural disasters more than doubled in Virginia over past two decades

A fallen tree on a Virginia road after a storm. (Image via Shutterstock)
A fallen tree on a Virginia road after a storm. (Image via Shutterstock)

Natural disasters that cause widespread damage are on the rise in Virginia.

The number of major disasters affecting the Commonwealth rose by 139% in the past two decades over the 20 years prior.

The data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and refers only to disasters where overall damages and costs reached or exceeded $1 billion, adjusted for inflation.

Virginia experienced a total of 67 such disasters since 2003 — up from 28 between 1983-2002.

Analyst Rob Bhatt with online insurance marketplace QuoteWizard, which analyzed the data, said severe weather events are up nationwide. 

Since 1980 the total national cost has topped $2.4 trillion, according to NOAA.

The disasters include drought, wildfire, flooding, tropical cyclones and severe storms. Virginia suffers mostly from the latter two.

“The hurricanes lose their force by the time they reach Virginia,” Bhatt said. “But the remnants of these storms are responsible for nearly 50% of the costs of these major disasters.”

Since the 1980s, the most costly time frame in Virginia was between 2010-2019, with an average of three and a half disaster events each year.  That includes Hurricane Irene in 2011, which caused significant damage in Hampton Roads. 

Tropical cyclones have caused the most expenses nationwide, NOAA says — about $22 billion per event.

In the 1980s, people could expect an average of 82 days between major disasters. In the past five years, that’s shrunk to an average of 18 days, according to Climate Central.

The numbers are “tough to wrap your brain around,” Bhatt said.

The bottom line, he said, is that the disasters are happening more frequently and causing an increasing amount of damage.

The best way people can protect themselves financially is to make sure their insurance policies cover the types of damage most common in their area, he said.

Most homeowner’s insurance, for example, doesn’t cover flooding.

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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