Think Florida is disaster prone? Federal data tells a different story

by | May 23, 2023

  • Despite its reputation for high-profile disasters, Florida ranks just 26th nationally in the total number of federally declared disasters from 2011 to 2021
  • While Florida experiences fewer disasters overall, the size of its storms results in substantial financial costs, averaging $754 million per disaster.
  • But even then, the Sunshine State ranks just third in both total economic costs and cost per disaster.

Amidst a decade of rising national disaster frequency and severity, Florida — notorious for its high-profile hurricanes — may not be as disaster-prone as people think.

Thanks to sensational media coverage of monster hurricanes, Florida’s annual made-for-television disaster programming is a major factor contributing to the state’s reputation as a disaster hotspot. But new data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Housing and Urban Development agency (HUD), reveals that from 2011 to 2021, Florida, with only 11 disaster declarations over that span, ranks just 26th among U.S. states in the total number of federally declared disasters with over half of all U.S. states being more disaster-prone than the Sunshine State during that period.

Of course, while the state may experience fewer disasters overall, the sheer size of Florida’s storms more than make up for what they lack in frequency. The financial toll tells a somewhat different story, with Florida racking up a substantial $8.3 billion in FEMA and HUD costs, translating to an average cost of $754 million per disaster.

Surprisingly, though, those totals are only good enough for third place in both categories, behind both New York and Texas in terms of total and per-disaster costs. Despite having one disaster less than Texas in the last 10 years, New York’s disaster-related expenses were the highest, amounting to over $26 billion over the decade. The Empire State experienced a variety of disasters, too: including one hurricane, several tropical storms, and a large number of winter storms that cut power, downed trees and caused widespread traffic problems.

Most notably, New York’s cost per disaster averaged a staggering $1.8 billion, almost double that of Texas, which reported $14.8 billion in total costs for its 17 disasters.

Contrarily, California, despite declaring the highest number of disasters (25 in total), did not match the high costs seen in New York, Texas, or Florida. California’s disasters were predominantly wildfires, earthquakes, winter storms, and wind damage.

One key factor underpinning these variations in economic damage is population density, with larger states typically experiencing more costly disasters.

Oklahoma ranked 2nd in total disaster declarations, with 22 in all, primarily stemming from tornadoes, wildfires, and winter storms. But despite the high frequency, the state’s lower population density spared it from widespread economic damage, ranking the Sooner State around the midpoint for costs. Similarly, Mississippi, which ranked 3rd nationally in total disasters, with hurricanes and floods being the primary culprits, dropped to 33rd place when it came to economic damage.

One other notable data point from the report: nearly every corner of the country, affecting nine out of 10 U.S. counties, experienced a federally declared climate disaster between 2011 and 2021. In short: it doesn’t matter where one lives, no city, county or state is entirely safe from natural disasters.

Here’s the data:

State Climate disaster declarations, 2011-2021 FEMA and HUD total cost ($) Cost per capita, 2011-2021 ($)
Alabama 17 1.3 billion 275
Alaska 15 294 million 401
Arizona 5 12.6 million 2
Arkansas 16 244 million 81
California 25 6.2 billion 157
Colorado 7 799 million 141
Connecticut 10 532 million 149
Delaware 5 13.6 million 14
Florida 11 8.3 billion 390
Georgia 11 675 million 64
Hawaii 10 325 million 229
Idaho 9 56.5 million 32
Illinois 5 311 million 24
Indiana 4 46.5 million 57
Iowa 21 717 million 228
Kansas 13 175 million 60
Kentucky 16 470 million 105
Louisiana 18 8.1 billion 1,736
Maine 6 24 million 18
Maryland 10 237 million 39
Massachusetts 9 501 million 73
Michigan 6 235 million 23
Minnesota 11 276 million 49
Mississippi 22 476 million 159
Missouri 14 992 million 162
Montana 12 67 million 63
Nebraska 14 749 million 390
Nevada 3 34 million 11
New Hampshire 16 74 million 55
New Jersey 13 7.2 billion 815
New Mexico 10 203 million 97
New York 16 26.3 billion 1,348
North Carolina 15 2.5 billion 243
North Dakota 13 561 million 738
Ohio 6 225 million 19
Oklahoma 22 849 million 215
Oregon 12 879 million 210
Pennsylvania 9 630 million 49
Rhode Island 4 56.3 million 53
South Carolina 8 1.5 billion 289
South Dakota 13 237 million 269
Tennessee 20 657 million 97
Texas 17 14.8 billion 518
Utah 7 36.1 million 11
Vermont 17 370 million 593
Virginia 11 417 million 49
Washington 16 267 million 36
West Virginia 17 870 million 481
Wisconsin 10 154 million 27
Wyoming 4 18.4 million 32

Source: Atlas of Disaster courtesy of Rebuild by Design, a disaster recovery nonprofit organization. 


  1. Elsie G

    Florida’s biggest disasters now are political

  2. CaptTurbo

    I wonder how we would rank now in Florida after Ian Sept 28th 2022? I am still trying to pick up the pieces.

    • MH/Duuuval

      Good point, Captain T. My hurricane insurance policy went up this year alone by $1900. I didn’t see much useful coming out of this year’s Legislature to hold down insurance rates for consumers.

      Meanwhile, the population of the coastal areas of the state grows by leaps and bounds. Readers of this piece will take cold comfort from reading it as a new hurricane season is upon us.

  3. Frank Thompson

    Florida homeowners have the second highest average homeowners insurance premiums in the country, only after Oklahoma. Then, when a homeowner incurs an insured loss, good luck trying to collect from the insurance company. Premiums are going up double digits every year, policies are being canceled, homeowners are being forced to replace watertight roofs in order to keep insurance coverage, homeowners are being forced to buy flood insurance That’s the bottom line.

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