Multi-Billion Dollar Weather Disasters Are On The Rise In The West

A recent report from NOAA’s National Centers for Environment Information shows there were 14 severe weather events across the country last year costing a total of $89.4 billion. Five of those affected the Mountain West region.

NOAA's Deke Arndt said one of the biggest threats east of the Continental Divide is giant hail storms. "You've got agriculture, you've got livestock, you've got row crops, and you've got people," he said, all of which can sustain damage.

West of the divide, drought and wildfire have the biggest potential to wreak havoc. Arndt pointed out that population and wealth are growing in the Mountain West just as climate change is causing more severe weather events.

“So if those three trends keep pointing up,” said Arndt, “it would be logical to assume that we’d see an increase in these billion-dollar disasters as well.”

Arndt said the agency’s report doesn’t account for ripple effect losses like the economic or ecological fallout after a natural disaster, but he does hope this data will at least help inform policy and business decisions in the future.  

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.