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Tennessee has become one of the costliest states for climate disasters

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Posted at 10:49 AM, Oct 14, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Calculations from a federal agency now show that Tennessee became one of the costliest states in terms of climate disasters in 2021.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration added up that Tennessee endured six different billion dollar disasters this year — from severe storms, tropical cyclones and winter weather. In total for 2021, 18 have happened nationwide. The average cost per event is $7 billion.

"Severe storms have caused the highest number of billion-dollar disaster events, while the average event cost is the lowest," NOAA researchers wrote in the report. "Tropical cyclones and flooding represent the second and third most frequent event types, respectively. Tropical cyclones are responsible for the highest number of deaths, followed by drought/heatwave events and severe storms."

All told since 1980, the agency tracked 90 separate billion dollar disasters generated by the state with an average of around two per year in its NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information report. The costs of these epic storms tallied between $20 to $50 billion.

Per NOAA, the last decade witnessed the most catastrophic weather since the 1980s. Twenty-one billion disasters took place between 2010-2019, with 14 of those happening from 2019 to 2020.

The distribution of damage from U.S. Billion-dollar disaster events from 1980 to 2021 is dominated by tropical cyclone losses," NOAA researchers wrote. Tropical cyclones have caused the most damage and also have the highest average event cost."

Here are Tennessee's disasters:

  • February cold wave and winter storm
  • Two March severe weather storms
  • May tornadoes
  • Tropical storm Fred remnants — flooding
  • Hurricane Ida remnants — flooding

So why is this happening? Storm 5 Meteorologist Heather Mathis says several factors could be at play. "How many people live here, the trees that we have that can come down in storm damage, how many people live in mobile homes versus homes that are more sturdy and can withstand typical storm damage," said Mathis.

She also points to geography. We're northern enough to get the snow, southern enough to get remnants of tropical events and right in the middle of Tornado Alley. Then, there's our area's growth. "As we continue to build and have more people move to Middle Tennessee -- that is more concrete you are putting down, that’s more homes that can potentially be flooded from this. So it just adds to the impact that we get from these storms," she said.

Krissy Hurley with the National Weather Service in Nashville says our changing climate is also a big factor. "Temperatures are rising, we know that the climate is changing and I think the best piece of advice is to tell people to prepare, prepare for those future weather disasters that we know will happen across this state," said Hurley, who is a Warning Coordination Meteorologist based out of Nashville.

Which is why Heather hopes you and your family always have a plan. "That’s why it’s so important to be weather aware and to know what’s coming up and stay with your weather team that you trust," said Mathis.