2020: A Year of Natural Hazard in Review

By | December 11, 2020

This post is part of a series sponsored by CoreLogic

What happened in 2020?

2020, without a doubt, has been a shock for everyone. Despite dealing with the ramifications of a global pandemic, the nation was hit with one natural disaster after the next. Our critical infrastructure and first responders have been put to the test by hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and wildfires as the world was simultaneously urged to stay home and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. To review the hazard events of 2020 is to revisit a year of hardship and challenges for many. With so much going on in the headlines, it may be useful to jog our memory on all of the catastrophic weather events that have happened this year.

In January, we began the year with a dramatic set of over 80 tornadoes and severe storms which damaged many states in the Southeast. This was paired with storms and severe flooding in northern states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York.

Severe weather continued in February with the South, East, and Northeast being hit hardest. There were over 20 tornadoes across central Mississippi and Tennessee and hundreds of high wind damage reports across the east coast. The Carolinas and Florida were hit with the most-costly damages.

In March, tornadoes and severe weather caused significant damage in Tennessee. Many homes and businesses were damaged by EF-3 and EF-4 tornadoes that wreaked havoc in and east of Nashville. Surrounding states were also impacted by hail and wind damage.

In April, tornadoes, high winds, and hail were rampant. North Central and Ohio Valley states were hit with numerous hailstorms and over 20 tornadoes. Later in the month, there was an outbreak of over 140 tornadoes from Texas to Maryland. CoreLogic estimates indicate that over 40,000 structures were affected with a reconstruction cost of over $5 billion. High winds, hail, and tornadoes also caused significant damage in Oklahoma and Louisiana.

May continued to bring high winds, thunderstorms, tornadoes and hail to central, eastern, and southern states. Earlier in the month, high winds and hail damage caused significant damage across southern Missouri and Tennessee. Then, thunderstorms, high winds, hail and tornadoes caused significant damage in Texas, Illinois and North Carolina. This was followed by dramatic hailstorms in south Texas, where golf-ball sized hail caused damage to many homes and businesses. Hail damage was concentrated in north San Antonio.

As summer began to approach in June, drought and record heat began to cause issues in the western and central regions. Death Valley in California reached 130°F, the highest temperature measured globally in many decades. The drought played a significant role in drying out vegetation, increasing the potential and severity of wildfire in the region.

At the end of July, Colorado was hit with the Pine Gulch Fire, resulting in local evacuations and the closure of highways in the region. The fire, with over 139,000 acres burned, was, at the time, the largest wildfire recorded in Colorado history.

Later in the summer in August, California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado were hit with record-breaking firestorms. In California, more than 4 million acres burned, a doubling of the acreage that burned in 2018. This included the damage of over 8000 structures across the state. Of these fires, the August Complex was the largest and was sparked by lighting strikes in Northern California. Oregon was also hit hard with over 2000 structures damaged. Colorado was hit with the largest wildfire in state history with the Cameron Peak Fire which burned over 208,000 acres and surpassed the record set earlier by the Pine Gulch Fire.

While wildfires raged in the West, hurricanes and derechos also played a part in making August a seriously damaging month. Hurricane Isaias made landfall in North Carolina and traveled across the east coast, causing power outages, inland flooding, and over 30 tornadoes in many states in the region. A derecho traveling from South Dakota to Ohio with winds greater than 100 mph caused significant damage to millions of acres of soybean and corn in Iowa and brought 15 tornadoes to northeastern Illinois. And to top it all off, Hurricane Laura, a category 4 and the strongest hurricane to hit the state since 1856, made landfall in Louisiana. The hurricane brought winds as high as 150 mph and storm surge above 15 feet, causing significant damage to Lake Charles.

The end of August was followed by another month of hurricane in September. Hurricane Sally strengthened to a powerful category 2 storm and made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama with winds of 105 mph. The storm brought strong storm surge to Alabama and the western end of the Florida panhandle, with approximately five feet of flooding in Pensacola, Florida.

In early October, Hurricane Delta, a mid-category 2 storm with winds up to 100 mph, made landfall in Louisiana. Fortunately, the storm was weakened by high wind shear before it made landfall. However, there were still significant damages. CoreLogic estimates indicated that there were $0.7 billion to $1.2 billion of onshore losses from the hurricane’s wind and storm surge. In the West, California wildfire season continued to rage on with many events occurring across northern and southern California. Another hurricane, Hurricane Zeta, was a strong Category 2 and the fifth named storm to strike Louisiana this season. More than 2.1 million customers were left with a power outage after the hurricane made landfall on the coast and traveled inland. CoreLogic estimates indicate that there were between $2.5 billion to $4 billion insured losses from the hurricane’s wind and storm surge.

2020 has been quite a year. As the world continues to adapt to a global pandemic and ever-changing climate, being equipped with the latest catastrophe modeling tools can help us make sense of the disasters that damage our communities. By understanding the risk these events pose to property, we can better plan for a catastrophic tomorrow and build a resilient future.

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