Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Disasters Hit 90% of USA in 2022

Ortley Beach, New Jersey (Office of the Governor of New Jersey)

George Harvey

Hurricane Sandy hit the United States just over ten years ago. It formed as a hurricane on October 22, 2012, and dissipated on November 2. It caused about $65 billion in damages in this country, nearly all of which happened after it had weakened and was no longer a hurricane.

When the extent of the damage was understood, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) undertook a project, Rebuild by Design (RBD), with help of a number of non-profit organizations and funding from philanthropists. The purpose was to enhance preparedness and resilience.

At its start, RBD was a design competition, a function it has continued to fulfill through the years. It has, however, undertaken projects of other kinds. Recently, it created a book in pdf format, Atlas of Disaster (AOD), which has maps providing in-depth information about disasters in this country, at both the state and county level.

AOD is by no means trivial. It is over 340 pages long and has about 250 maps. The pdf file can be accessed at, but we might suggest checking your computer to be sure you have disk space and memory for it, because the file is over 174 megabytes. When I loaded AOD to look at it, the sheer size of it degraded performance of my computer enough that I had to shut the power off to reboot.

As other atlases do, AOD has a fair amount of text explaining and building upon the maps. But it goes into details of weather disasters on a state-by-state basis, with coverage for each county that has seen disasters. It gives a visual display of federal assistance, energy reliability, social vulnerability, and risks, with maps for each state, with its counties, together with a table giving information relevant at county level.

According to the text, 90% of the counties in the United States have gone through weather disasters during the years 2011 through 2021. Some of them had as many as twelve declared disasters during those years. The counties include the homes of over 300 million people, which is 93% of the country’s population.

For the purpose of the atlas, a “major disaster” includes “any natural catastrophe (including any hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, wind driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or drought), or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood, or explosion, in any part of the United States, which in the determination of the President causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance …”

The disaster coverage does not have details on damage from heat waves, because the federal government does not keep data on the losses they cause. Even so, the subject is addressed with estimates. AOD says, “Under baseline climate conditions, the U.S. could lose an average of approximately $100 billion annually from heat-induced lost labor productivity, which could double to nearly $200 billion by 2030 and reach $500 billion by 2050. This includes loss of agriculture due to lower labor productivity and lower crop yields.”

While the atlas includes federal disaster relief from HUD, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Agriculture, it does not include costs of help from the Army Corps of Engineers or the Small Business Administration. Nor does it cover all costs of disasters that are covered.

So, we can safely conclude that as extensive as the information is, AOD really only tells us part of the story. There is more, and that makes the overall picture look even worse. Also, as huge as the cost of disasters is, it is increasing and will continue to do so.

One of the things AOD does cover is social vulnerability. This might deserve a comment. Amy Chester, the Managing Director of Rebuild by Design, spoke to the issue as AOD was released. She said the data surprised her, because people in more affluent areas were getting more financial help for recovery than those whose needs were greater. The reason for this turned out to be that the relief is proportional to the market value of the loss, not to the need.

Though AOD does not address it, we might consider those among us who do not believe in climate change. It is clear that not all disasters relating to weather can be attributed to climate change, a fact many of them are aware of. Also, they sometimes point out that records are still being set for cold temperatures. Nevertheless, an examination of the position may not be tenable, given the facts and history. For example, fifty years ago, records were being set for both cold and heat in roughly equal numbers, but today, for every cold weather record set, about ten are set for heat, according to a recent report from CNN (

The number of climate disasters is growing rapidly, and with them the damage is growing. Because we need to know what the causes of weather disasters are, attribution science is being developed. Through it, many disasters can be shown to have clear connections to climate change. In some cases, dollar values can be put on specific damage that has happened due to climate change.

The AOD is designed to be highly useful to people who are engaged in planning for resilience, relief, and mitigation. It is a tool that people engaged in such activities would do well to study.

The Rebuild by Design website is

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