Billion-dollar disasters have been sweeping across the US this year

A tree fallen in front of a damaged house against a grey sky.
Photo taken of a severely damaged home the day after a devastating derecho ripped through Houston, Texas. This storm was one of 11 separate billion-dollar disasters to strike the U.S. so far this year. (Image credit: Logan Riely/Getty Images, May 17, 2024)

Two severe weather events in May brought the number of billion-dollar disasters for the United States in 2024 up to nearly a dozen. 

The month began with a tornado outbreak from May 6 to May 10 that stretched across 23 states, going from South Dakota to Florida. There were 167 tornadoes confirmed, including a deadly EF-4 per the Enhanced Fujita Scale, on the first day of the outbreak. This tornado devastated the towns of Barnsdall and Bartlesville in Oklahoma. Almost a week later, a derecho (a widespread, elongated wind storm that can form alongside fast-moving, severe thunderstorms) roared through Houston, Texas, with winds reaching speeds up to 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour). 

The destruction was extensive, and at least eight people lost their lives from the storm.  The total of tornadoes across the U.S. in just March and April alone climbed to 450, which included the deadliest of the year — another EF-4 that claimed five lives in Greenfield, Iowa. 

Eleven separate billion-dollar weather and climate events from January through the end of May each resulted in economic losses of at least $1 billion for the nation; combined, the damage cost totaled more than $25 billion. Two of the events were winter storms and the other nine spawned from other severe storms. This adds to the already growing number of billion-dollar disasters that have occurred since 1980, which sums up to 387 events causing more than $2.74 trillion worth of damage. 

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 A map of the U.S. plotted with significant climate events that occurred during May 2024. See more details in the report summary from NOAA NCEI.  (Image credit: NOAA NCEI)

May also had quite the climate roundup overall.

In addition to the severe storms that ravaged parts of the eastern U.S., drought conditions shifted — and droughts are one of the direct consequences of human-driven climate change, which scientists have confirmed is at an all-time high. The May 28 U.S. Drought Monitor Report shared there was a 4% drop since the end of April in the amount of the contiguous U.S. experiencing drought conditions, bringing the total to 13%. Parts of the country where the drought intensified included western Kansas, eastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, parts of the Northwest and Florida. Much of the Upper Midwest, the Midwest, Northern Rockies and parts of Hawaii saw a reduction in drought intensity.

NOAA NCEI, A map of the U.S. plotted with 11 weather and climate disasters each costing $1 billion or more that occurred between January and May, 2024. (Image credit: NOAA NCEI)

Heat was also a big topic during the month of May, as the month ranked as the 13th warmest on record over the past 130 years. The average temperature for the month across the contiguous U.S. came in at 62.3 degrees Fahrenheit (16.8 degrees Celsius) with the eastern half of the country, including Florida, having its warmest May on record in particular. Such heat fluctuations are also to blame on human-driven climate change; overall, meteorological spring tied with 2016 as the sixth-warmest on record with an average of 53.7 degrees F (12 degrees C). Scientists have further confirmed that the summer of 2023 was the hottest in 2,000 years and that each month last year from June through December set a global heat record for its respective history (for instance, July 2023 was the hottest July on record). 

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Meredith Garofalo
Contributing Writer

Meredith is a regional Murrow award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and science/space correspondent. She most recently was a Freelance Meteorologist for NY 1 in New York City & the 19 First Alert Weather Team in Cleveland. A self-described "Rocket Girl," Meredith's personal and professional work has drawn recognition over the last decade, including the inaugural Valparaiso University Alumni Association First Decade Achievement Award, two special reports in News 12's Climate Special "Saving Our Shores" that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, multiple Fair Media Council Folio & Press Club of Long Island awards for meteorology & reporting, and a Long Island Business News & NYC TV Week "40 Under 40" Award.

  • Helio
    Destruction costs will naturally increase given the increase in the number of structures and inflation rates.

    Per NOAA, There is only a recent increase in deaths but it doesn’t correlate with evil CO2. AFAIK, scientists on the whole agree that we aren’t able to site any given weather event from climate modeling. Using the broad-stroke approach to claim weather overall is getting worse often ignores the really bad weather found in the 1930’s.

  • Jan Steinman
    So naturally, insurance rates are going up, to add to the already too-high housing costs.