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May tornadoes, derecho storm push weather damages past $25 billion so far this year

Tornado alley appears to be expanding
Tornado alley appears to be expanding as deadly storms hit U.S. 02:15

A deadly outbreak of tornadoes last month caused $4.7 billion in damages across the Southern, Southeastern and Central U.S., making it one of the costliest weather events of the year so far, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there had been 11 confirmed weather and climate disaster events so far this year with losses exceeding $1 billion, with the total price tag topping $25 billion. There were more than 165 tornadoes during the May 6-9 outbreak, impacting Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, officials said. 

A southern derecho —a widespread and long-lived wind storm associated with rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms— also caused more than $1 billion in damage in May, according to government data. The May 16-17 storm spanning from Texas to Florida killed at least eight people and caused $1.2 billion in damages. Winds topping 110 mph tore through parts of central and eastern Texas during the storm. The NOAA described May as a "turbulent month."

may 2024 billion dollar disasters
A map of the U.S. shows the 11 weather and climate disasters that struck this year, each costing $1 billion or more, that occurred between January and May. NOAA NCEI

The list of damaging weather events in May may grow with additional events during the NOAA update in early June, an agency spokesman said. The cutoff date for this analysis was mid-May and there were several costly hail events that occurred during the second half of May that are still being reviewed.

Other notable storms from this year include a January winter storm in the northwest and multiple tornado outbreaks in April. In March, damaging hail, tornadoes and high winds cost $5.9 billion, adjusted for inflation. Officials said a preliminary count showed 450 tornadoes across the U.S. in March and April combined. The deadliest single tornado of the year to date hit Greenfield, Iowa, on May 21, causing widespread destruction and killing five.

The 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, which is predicted to be above normal, began at the start of June and will last until Nov. 30. Federal forecasters predict 17 to 25 named storms, 8 to 13 hurricanes, and 4 to 7 major hurricanes of category 3 or higher. 

For all United States hurricanes, 2005's Hurricane Katrina is the costliest on record, incurring $200 billion in damage. Harvey in 2017, Ian in 2022, Maria in 2017 and Sandy in 2012 cost $158.8 billion, $118.5 billion, $114.3 billion and $88.5 billion, adjusted for inflation, respectively.

2023 billion dollar disaster map
A map shows the costliest weather and climate disasters in the U.S. in 2023. NOAA

In May, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency joined NOAA officials to announced the hurricane outlook for the season. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell at the time noted that severe weather was "becoming part of our new normal," while FEMA Deputy Administrator Erik A. Hooks. said that severe weather events "continue to increase in frequency and duration."

"In recent years, there were just 18 days on average between billion-dollar disasters, compared to 82 days in the 1980s," NOAA spokesperson Adam Smith said. "These shorter time intervals between disasters often mean less time and resources available to respond, recover and prepare for future events. This increased frequency of events produces cascading impacts that are particularly challenging to vulnerable socioeconomic populations."

Last year, there were 28 weather events with losses exceeding $1 billion each —surpassing the previous record of 22 in 2020. Nearly 500 people died in those storms. Criswell warned in August of 2023 that the organization's disaster fund could dry up and delay the federal response to natural disasters.

FEMA's May major disaster relief fund report, which covers 2024 as of the end of April, seems to show the fund may be more than $1.3 billion in the red by August

"FEMA continues to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure sufficient funding is available," a FEMA spokesperson said in a statement. "Without additional funding, FEMA will take steps prior to funding exhaustion to ensure resources are available to support ongoing lifesaving and life sustaining activities and provide a reserve for initial response and recovery operations for a new catastrophic event."

In 2022, there were 18 extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion in damage each, totaling more than $165 billion.

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