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10 Worst Natural Disasters to Strike the U.S.

Hurricanes top the list, but heat waves and floods also took steep human and financial tolls

damage from hurricane katrina

ParkerDeen/Getty Images

Damage from Hurricane Katrina in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

En español | The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an above-normal season of storm activity. By the time 2021 is over, forecasters expect 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour or higher), including six to 10 hurricanes (winds 74 mph or higher), with three to five of those storms major hurricanes (at least a Category 3, with winds 111 mph or higher). The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

The dire projection comes on the heels of an unprecedented 2020, when a record 22 weather and climate disasters hit the U.S., with each causing at least $1 billion in damages, according to NOAA. The previous mark of 16 billion-dollar disasters was set in 2011 and matched in 2017. Last year's 22 disasters — seven tropical cyclones, 13 severe storms, one drought and one wildfire — combined for a total of $95 billion in damages. Since 1980, there have been 285 weather and climate disasters with damages at or above $1 billion, totaling an inflation-adjusted $1.875 trillion.

Despite the record number of disasters in 2020, none found a place among the costliest disasters ever to strike the U.S. Here's a look at the 10 natural disasters that caused the most monetary damage, based on data from NOAA. All dollar figures have been adjusted for inflation.

Before disaster strikes: How older adults can prepare now

Review, practice and refresh your plan, supplies and important documents every six months:

  • Plan to stay at home for at least two weeks or evacuate.
  • If you need help evacuating, determine who will help you and make a plan with them.
  • If you need electricity to operate medical devices or store medicine, make a back-up plan.
  • In case of fire, identify two ways to escape every room and plan for the help you may need.
  • Review your renters or home insurance to make sure your policy meets your property and disaster coverage needs.
  • Make an emergency contact list and plan how you'll reach them, including when communications may be disrupted.
  • Use an emergency checklist to prepare what you'll need in your home, car or when you evacuate.
  • Keep on hand at least 30 days of medication and extra assistive items such as a cane or eyeglasses.
  • Get batteries to power devices.
  • Use a checklist to locate, collect and copy important documents such as identification cards, financial, legal and medical papers you'll need to recover.
  • Store a list of up-to-date medical information that includes any conditions, allergies, medications, prescription records, doctors and insurance cards.

Source: American Red Cross

Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency's Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.