With historic floods, droughts, and tornadoes, this year has broken the record for the number of billion-dollar calamities
Joplin, Mo. after an EF-5 tornado devastated the city in May / (Flickr/Kansascitydistrict)
Wildfires are raging in Texas. Parts of the Midwest remain in splinters from April's intense tornado outbreaks. The Northeast is still cleaning up the wreckage from Hurricane Irene.
"We still have several months left [of Hurricane season]," Crouch says. "That number of billion dollar disasters could go up. There is a forecast for an above average tropical cyclone season, and if any of those do hit the U.S., this number is definitely going to go up."
Tornadoes have been both the deadliest and costliest weather event this year. They accounted for $22.5 billion in damage and at least 544 deaths -- 12 times more fatalities than last year, making this the fourth deadliest year on record for tornadoes. The worst year for tornado fatalities was in 1925, when 794 died.
No one event from 2011 comes even close to the $200 billion devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. But this year's disasters are diverse and widespread, affecting coastal regions as well as the heartland. Likewise, FEMA's budget is starting to be stretched thin. In August, it was reported that the agency's funds had dipped below $1 billion, forcing FEMA to reallocate aid from recovery efforts in Missouri to the Northeast.
Despite a decline in funds, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate tells The Atlantic the agency will continue to respond to disasters, with life threatening scenarios as his first priority. " It is pretty straight forward, " Fugate said. "You are going to focus on the life safety areas first and then start working the other issues."
"The toughest one is flooding because so few people actually carry flood insurance if they are not in the high risk flood zones, since your homeowners' policy doesn't cover insurance," he said. "Our FEMA programs don't really make people whole, they are really designed to help get people started." As tough as this year has been for Americans, it's worth remembering that it pales in comparison to what's been happening overseas. Our $35 billion is a fraction of the $309 billion in damage caused by Japan's 8.9 earthquake and its subsequent tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis. Altogether, these events took more than 10,000 lives.
Here's a look at the 10 disasters that have individually cost the United States more than $1 billion this year: